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New pAlition 
Printe^l by R. & il. Clark, Nov. 15, 1873. 





Translated from the French by H. Van Laun 
One of tlie Mut«ra Bt the EdiDbnish Acedemy 







Ben Jlonson. 

The muters of the school, in the school and in their 
age — JoQson — His mood — Oharacter — Educa- 
tion — Firet efforts — Stnigglcfl — Poverty — Sick- 
ness — Death ...... 

Learning — Classical tastes — Didactic characten^ 
Qood managemeiLt of his plots — Freedom and 
precision of his style — ^Vigour of hie will and 


. Dramas — Oatilitu and Sganui — How he was able 
to depict the personages and the passions of the 
Roman decadence 

Comedies — His refonnation and theory of the theatre 
— Satirical comedies — Fotptme — Why these 
comedies are serious and warlike — How they 
depict the passions of the Kenaissance — His 
farces^ITM SiUnt Woman — Why these comedies 
are energetic and rude — How they conform with 
the tastes of the Renaissance .... 

Limits of his talent — Wherein he is inferior to 
Molifero— Want of higher philosophy and comic 



gaiety — His imagination and Fancy — The Staple 
of News and OynthiaU ReveU — How he treats the 
comedy of society, and lyrical comedy — His 
smaller poems — His masques — Theatrical and 
picturesque manners of the court — Hie Sad 
Shepherd — How Jonson remains a poet to his 

death 38 

VI. General idea of Shakspeare — The fundamental idea 
in Shakspeare — Conditions of human reason — 
Shakspeare's master faculty — Conditions of exact 
representation 45 


I. Life and character of Shakspeare — Family — ^Youth 
— Marriage — He becomes an actor — Adonis — 
Sonnets — Loves — Humour — Conversation — 
Melancholy — The constitution of the productive 
and sympathetic character — Prudence^Fortune 
— Retirement 50 

n. Style — Images — Excesses — Incongruities — Copious- 
ness — Difference between the creative and 
analytic conception 67 

III. Manners — Familiar intercourse — Violent bearing — 
Harsh language — Conversation and action — 
Agreement of manners and style ... 74 

rv. The dramatis persona — ^All of the same family — Brutes 
and idiots — Caliban, Ajaz, Cloten, Polonius, the 
Nurse — How the mechanical imagination can 
precede or survive reason .... 83 

V. Men of wit — Difference between the wit of reasoners 
and of artists — Mercutio, Beatrice, Rosalind, 
Benedict, the clowns — Falstaff ... 90 



VL Women — Desdemona, Virginia, Juliet, Miranda, 
Imogen, Cordelia, Ophelia, Volumnia — How 
Shakspeare represents love — Why he bases virtue 
on instinct or passion 96 

vn. Villains — lago, Richard III. — How excessive lusts 
and the lack of conscience are the natural pro- 
vince of the impassioned imagination . . 101 

vm. Principal characters — Excess and disease of the 
imagination — Lear, Othello, Cleopatra, Corio- 
lanus, Macbeth, Hamlet — Comparison of Shak- 
speare's psychology with that of the French 
tragic authors 104 

IX. Fancy — Agreement of imagination with observation 
in Shaksx>eare — Interesting nature of sentimental 
and romantic comedy — As you like it — Idea of 
existence — Midsummer Nighfs Dream^ — Idea of 
love — Harmony of all parts of the work — 
Harmony between the artist and his work 124 

STj^e C^fsttan 39lenat00ance. 

I. Vices of the Pagan Renaissance — Decay of the 

Southern civilisations 142 

n. The Reformation — ^Aptitude of the Germanic races, 
and suitability of Northern climates t- Albert 
Durer's bodies and souls — His martyrdoms and 
last judgments — Luther — His idea of justice — 
Construction of Protestantism — Crisis of the 
conscience — Renewal of heart — Suppression of 
ceremonies — Transformation of the clergy . 148 

m. Reformation in England — Tyranny of the ecclesias- 
tical courts — Disorders of the clergy — Irritation 
of the people — The interior of a diocese — Perse- 



cutions and convulsions — The translation of the 
Bible — How biblical events and Hebraic senti- 
ments are in accordance with contemporary 
manners and with the English character — The 
Prayer Book — Moral and manly feeling of the 
prayers and church service — ^Preaching — ^Latimer 
— His education — Character — Familiar and per- 
suasive eloquence — ^Death — The martyrs under 
Maiy — England thenceforth Protestant . .158 
iv. The Anglicans — Close connection between religion 
and society — How the religious sentiment pene- 
trates literature — How the sentiment of the 
beautiful subsists in religion — Hooker — His 
breadth of mind and the fulness of his style — 
Hales and Chillingworth — Praise of reason and 
tolerance — Jeremy Taylor — His learning, im- 
agination, and poetic feeling . . . .186 

V. The Puritans — Opposition of religion and the world 

— ^Dogmas — Morality — Scruples — Their triumph 
and enthusiasm — Their work and practical 
sense * . 202 

VI. Bunyan — His life, spirit, and poetical work — The 

Prospect of Protestantism in England .221 


I. Oeneral idea of his mind and character — Family — 

Education — Studies — Travels — Return to Eng- 
land 240 

II. Effects of a concentrated and solitary character — 

Austerity — Inexperience — Marriage — Children 

— Domestic Troubles 246 


Combative energy — Polemic ag^iut the bishops — 
Against tbe king — Enthusiasm and stemness — 
Theories on gorerumeut, church, and education 
—Stoicism and rirtue — Old age, occupations, 

IT. Milton's residence in London and the countij — 
General q>pearance 

T. Milton as a prose-writer — Changes during three 
centuries in countenances and ideas — Heaviness 
of his logic — The Doctrine and Diteipline nf Divorct 
— Heavy Humour — ■ Animadvtrtiim* upon tht 
Btmojulranft Definee — Clumsineea of discussiou 
— Dtfenrio Popali JnsriiMni— Violence of his 
animosities — The reaion of daiTch Gmemtrtent — 
EilixmokUuta — Liberality of Doctrines — Of lUfor- 
motion — AreopagitiiM — Style — Breadth of elo- 
quence—Wealth of imagery — Lyric aubllmily 
of diction ....... 

n. Milton as a poet — How he approaches and is distmct 
from the poets of the Renaissance — How he gives 
poetry a moral tone — Profane poems — L' Allegro 
and II Penitroso — Comut — Lij/eidat — Religious 
poems — Paradite Lott — Conditions of a genuine 
epic — They are not to be met with in the age 
or in the poet — Comparison of Adam and Eve 
with on English family — Comparison of Ood and 
the angels to a monarch's court — The rest of the 
poem — Comparison between the sentiments of 
Satan and the republican passions — Lyrical and 
moral chaiacter of the sceneiy — Loftiness and 
■raise of the moral ideas — Situation of the poet 
and the poem between two ages — Composition of 
his genius and his work .... 




([ri)e 3&e0totatunu 
I. Ths Roistebebs. 


I. The excesses of Puritanism — How they induce ex- 
cesses of sensuality 320 

u. Picture of these manners by a stranger — The M^moires 
de Orammoni — ^Difference of debauchery in France 
and England 324 

ni. Butler*s Hudibras — Platitude of his comic style, and 

harshness of his rancorous style . . .328 

lY. Baseness, cruelty, brutality, debauchery, of the court 

— Rochester, his life, poems, style, morals 332 

y. Philosophy consonant with these manners — Hobbes, 
his spirit and his style — His curtailments and 
his discoveries — His mathematical method — 
In how much . he resembles Descartes — His 
morality, sesthetics, politics, logic, psychology, 
metaphysics — Spirit and aim of his philosophy . 342 

VI. The theatre — Alteration in taste, and in the public — 

Audiences before and after the Restoration . 350 

VII. Dryden — ^Disparity of his comedies — Unskilfiilness of 

his indecencies — How he translates Moli^re's 
Amphitryon . . . . . . .353 

vni. Wycherley — Life — Character — Melancholy, greed, 
immodesty — Love in a Wood, Country IVife^ 
Dancing Master — Licentious pictures, and re- 
pugnant details — His energy and realism — Parts 
of Olivia and Manly in his Plain Dealer — 
Certain words of Milton's Paradise Lost . .357 

2. ThB WoBLDLIirOB. 

I. Appearance of the worldly life in Europe — Its 
conditionB and causee — Ho v it vas eatablished in 
England — Etiquette, amuaementB, conrenationB, 
manners, and talents of tlie drawing-Toom 

n. Dawn of the classic spirit in Europe — Ita origin — 
Its nature — Difference of conrenation under 
Elizabeth and Charles II 

nL Sir Willitun Temple — His life, character, spirit, and 

IT. Writera of fashion — Their correct language and 
gallant bearing — Sir Charles Sedley, the Earl 
of Dorset, Edmund Waller — His opinions and 
s^le — Wherein consists his polish — Wherwn 
he ifl not sufficiently polished — Culture of style 
— Lack of poetry — Character of mouarcliical and 
daasic style 

V. Sir John Denham — His poem of Cooptr's Hill — 
Oratorical swell of his verae — English seriousness 
of his moral preoccupationa — How people of 
bsMon and literary men followed then the 
fiishions of France 

TT. The comic-authors — Comparison of this theatre with 
that of Molifere — Arrangement of ideas in Moli&re 
— General ideaa in Molibre — How in Molifere 
the odious is concealed, while the truth is de- 
[Hcted — How in Moli&re the honest man is still 
the man of the world — How the respectable man 
of Holifere is a French type .... 
TIL Action — Complication of intrigues — Frivolity of 
purpose — CradenesB of the characters — Grossnees 
{^manners — Wherein consists the talent of 
Wycherlqr, Congreve, Vanbrugh, and Farqnhar — 
Efaid of characters they are able to produce 



yni. Natural characters — Sir John Brute, the hosband ; 
Squire Sullen — Sir Tunbellyy the father — Miss 
Hoyden, the young lady — Squire Humphry , the 
young gentleman — Idea of nature aooording to 
thiB theatre 414 

DL Artificial characters — ^Women of the world — Miss 
Prue, Lady Wishfort, Lady Pliant, Mrs, MUlamcmt 
— Men of the world — Mirabell — Idea of society 
according to this theatre — Why this culture 
and this literature have not produced durable 
works — ^Wherein they are opposed to the English 
character — Transformation of taste and mumers 419 

X. The continuation of comedy — Sheridan — Life — 
Talent — The School for Scandal — How comedy 
degenerates and is extinguished — Causes of the 
decay of the theatre in Europe and in England . 432 


BOOK 11. 

)3ni Sammx. 

"When s new ci^-ilisation brings a new art to light, 
there are about a dozen men of talent who partly express 
the general idea, surrounding one or two men of genius 
who express it thoroughly. Guillen de Castro, Perez 
de Montalvan, Tirzo de Molina, Euiz de Alarcon, 
Agustin Moreto, surrounding Calderon and Lope de 
Vega; Grayer, Van Oost, Kombouts, Van Thulden, 
Van Dyck, Honthorst, surrounding Eubens ; Ford, Mar- 
lowe, Masainger, Webster, Beaumont, Fletcher, sur- 
rounding Shakspeare and Ben Jonson. The first 
constitute Uie chorus, the others are the leading men. 
They sing the same piece together, and at times the 
chorist is equal to the solo artist ; but only at times. 
Thus, in the dramas which I have just referred to, the 
poet occasionally reaches the summit of his art, hits 
upon a complete character, a burst of sublime passion ; 
VOL. a B 


then he falls back, gropes amid qualified successes, 
rough sketches, feeble imitations, and at last takes 
refuge in the tricks of his trade. It is not in him, but 
in great men like Ben Jonson and Shakspeare, that we 
must look for the attainment of his idea and the fulness 
of his art. " Numerous were the wit-combats," says 
FuDer, "betwixt him (Shakspeare) and Ben Jonson, 
which two I behold like a Spanish great galleon and 
an English man-of-war. Master Jonson (like the 
former) was built far higher in learning ; solid, but slow 
in his performances. Shakspeare, with the English 
man-of-war, lesser in bidk, but lighter in sailing, could 
turn with all tides, tack about and take advantage of 
all winds, by the quickness of his wit and invention."* 
Such was Ben Jonson physically and morally, and his 
portraits do but confirm this just and animated outline : 
a vigorous, heavy, and uncouth person ; a broad and 
long face, early disfigured by scurvy, a square jaw, large 
cheeks ; his animal organs as much developed as those 
of his intellect : the sour aspect of a man in a passion 
or on the verge of a passion ; to which add the body 
of an athlete, about forty years of age, " mountain belly, 
ungracious gait." Such was the outside, and the inside 
is like it. He was a genuine Englisliman, big and 
coarsely framed, energetic, combative, proud, often 
morose, and prone to strange splenetic imaginations. 
He told Drummond that for a whole night he imagined 
'* that he saw the Carthaginians and Eomans fighting 
on his great toe." ^ Not that he is melancholic by 
nature ; on the contrary, he loves to escape from him- 

* Fuller's WoHhiM, ed. Nuttall, 1840, 3 vols, ill 284. 
' There is a similar hallucination to be met with in the life of Lord 
Castlereagh, who afterwards committed suicide. 


self by &efi and noisy, unbridled merriment, by copious 
and varied converse, assisted by good Canary wine, 
vhicb be imbibes, and v'hicb ends by becoming a 
necessity to Mm. These great phlegmatic butchers' 
&ames require a generous liquor to give them a tone, 
and to supply the place of the sun whicb they lack. 
Expansive moreover, hospitable, even lavish, with a 
&ank imprudent spirit,^ making him forget himself 
wholly before Drummond, his Scotch host, an over rigid 
and malicious pedant, who has marred his ideas and 
vilified his character.' What we know of his life is in 
harmony with his person: be suffered much, fought 
much, dared much. He was studying at Cambridge, 
when his stepfather, a bricklayer, recalled him, and 
taught him to use the tioweL He ran away, enlisted 
aa a common soldier, and served in the English army, 
at that time engaged against the Spaniards in the Low 
Countries, killed and despoiled a man in single combat, 
" in the view of both armies." He was a man of bodily 
action, and he exercised his limbs in early life,' On 
his return to England, at the age of nineteen, he went 
on the stage for his livelihood, and occupied himself 
also in touching up dramas. Having been challei^ed, 
he fooght a duel, was seriously wounded, but killed 

' Hu Dhaiscter lies between those of Fielding and Dr. Johoson. 

* Mr. David L*ing remarks, howeTer, in Dnmunond'a defence, that 
M "Johbou died Aognst 6, 1637, Drununond aurvived tiJl December 
4, 1619, and no portion of these Notes (ConvenationB) were made 
public till 1711, OTaiity-two years after Drnntmond'a death, andseTeut;- 
foDT after Jansoa's, which renders quite nngatoiy all Gifford'a accnaa- 
tioiu of Drtunmoud's having published them 'without ahame.' At 
to Dnunmond decojing Joubod under hli roof with any premeditated 
deaign on hia reputation, ai Hr. Campbell haa remarked, no one can 
MiioliBly believe it."—Archaologi£a SaAiea, voL iv. page 213. — Tn. 

' At the age of forty-four he went to Scotland on foot. 


his adveisaiy; for tMs he was cast into pnson, and 
found himself "nigh the gallows." A catholic priest 
visited and converted him ; quitting his prison penniless, 
at twenty years of age, he married. At last, four years 
later, his first successful play was acted. Children 
came, he must earn bread for them ; and he was not 
inclined to follow the beaten track to the end, being 
persuaded that a fine philosophy — a special nobleness 
and dignity — ought to be introduced into comedy, — 
that it was necessary to follow the example of the 
ancients, to imitate their severity and their accuracy, 
to be above the theatrical racket and the common 
improbabilities in which the vulgar delighted. He 
openly proclaimed his intention in his prefaces, sharply 
railed at his rivals, proudly set forth on the stage ^ his 
doctrines, his morality, his character. He thus made 
bitter enemies, who defamed him outrageously and 
before their audiences, whom he exasperated by the 
violence of his satires, and against whom he struggled 
without intermission to the end. He did more, he 
constituted himself a judge of the public corruption, 
sharply attacked the reigning vices, " fearing no strum- 
pet's drugs, nor ruflBan's stab." ^ He treated his hearers 
like schoolboys, and spoke to them always like a censor 
and a master. If necessary, he ventured further. His 
companions, Marston and Chapman, had been committed 
to prison for some reflections on the Scotch in one of 
their pieces called "Eastward-Hoe;" and the report 
spreading that they were in danger of losing their noses 
and ears, Jonson, who had written part of the piece, 
voluntarily surrendered himself a prisoner, and obtained 

^ Parts of OrUes and Asper. 

' Every Man out of his Bumour, i ; Gifford's Jonson, p. 30. 


their pardon. On his return, amid the feasting and 
rejoicing, his mother showed him a violent poison which 
she intended to put into his drink, to save him &om 
the execution of the sentence ; and " to show that she 
was not a coward," adds Jonson, " she had resolved to 
drink first" We see that in vigorous actions he found 
examples in his own family. Toward the end of his 
life, money was scarce with him ; he was liberal, 
improvident; his pockets always had holes in them, 
and his hand was always ready to give ; though he had 
written a vast quantity, he was still obliged to write 
in order to Hva Faralysis came on, his scurvy became 
wors^ dropsy set in. He could not leave his room, 
nor walk without assistance. His last plays did not 
succeed. In the epilogue to the New Inn he says : 

" If yon expect more than yon had tonight, 
The maker b sick and sad. . . . 
All that bis &iiit and ftlt'iing tongue doth crave, 
le, that you not impute it to hia brain. 
That's yet unhurt, altho' set round with pain, 
It cannot long hold out." 

His enemies brutally insulted him : 

" Thy P^aauB . . . 
He had bequeathed his belly unto thee, 
To hold that little learning which is fled 
Into thy guts from out thy emptye head." 

Inigo Jones, his colleague, deprived him of the patron- 
age of the court. He was obliged to beg a supply of 
money &om the Lord Treasurer, then from the Earl 
of Newcastle : 


" Disease, the enemy, and his engineers, 
Want, with the rest of his concealed compeers, 
Have cast a trench about me, now five years. ... 
The muse not peeps out, one of hundred days ; 
But lies blocked up and straitened, narrowed in, 
Fixed to the bed and boards, unlike to win 
Health, or scarce breath, as she had never been." ^ 

His wife and children were dead ; he lived alone, for- 
saken, waited on by an old woman. Thus almost always 
sadly and miserably, is dragged out and ends the last 
act of the human comedy. After so many years, after 
so many sustained efforts, amid so much glory and 
genius, we find a poor shattered body, drivelling and 
suffering, between a servant and a priest 


This is the life of a combatant, bravely endured, 
worthy of the seventeenth century by its crosses and 
its energy; courage and force abounded throughout. 
Few writers have laboured more, and more conscienti- 
ously; his knowledge was vast, and in this age of eminent 
scholars he was one of the best classics of his time, as 
deep as he was accurate and thorough, having studied 
the most minute details and understood the true spirit 
of ancient Ufa It was not enough for him to have 
stored his mind from the best writers, to have their 
whole works continually in his mind, to scatter his 
pages whether he would or no, with recollections of 
them. He dug into the orators, critics, scholiasts, gram- 
marians, and compilers of inferior rank ; he picked up 

^ Ben Jonson's Poems, ed. Bell, An Epistle Mendicant^ to Richard, 
Lord Weston, Lord High Treasurer (1681), p. 244. 


stray frt^ments ; he took cbamcteis, jokes, refinementa, 
from Atheueeus, Libanlus, Fhilostratus. He had so 
well entered into and digested the Greek and Latin 
ideas, that they were incorporated with his own. They 
enter into his speech wiUiout incongruity ; they spring 
forth in him as vigorous as at their grst hirth ; he 
originates even when he remembeis. On every subject 
he had this thiiat for knowledge, and this gift of master- 
ing knowledge. He knew alchemy when he wrote the 
Alchemist. He is familiar with alembics, retorts, 
receivers, as if he had passed his life seeking after the 
phOosopher's stone. He explains incineration, calcina- 
tion, imbibition, rectification, reverberation, as well as 
Agrippa and Paracelsus. If he speaks of cosmetics,' 
he brings out a sbopful of them ; we might make out 
of hifl plays a dictionary of the oaths and costumes of 
courtiers ; he seems to have a specialty in all branches. 
A still greater proof of his force is, that his learning in 
nowise mars his vigour ; heavy as is the mass with 
which he loads himself, he carries it without stooping. 
This wonderful mass of reading and observation sud- 
denly b^ins to move, and falls like a mountain on the 
overwhelmed reader. We must hear Sir Epicure 
Manunon unfold the vision of splendours and debauchery, 
in which he means to plunge, when he has learned to 
make gold. The refined and unchecked impurities of 
the Eoman decadence, the splendid obscenities of 
Heliogabalus, the gigantic fancies of luxury and lewd- 
ness, tables of gold spread with foreign dainties, draughts 
of dissolved pearls, nature devastated to provide a single 
dish, the many crimes committed by sensuality against 
nature, reason, and justice, the delight in defying and 
> Tht Demi ia UTt Au. 


outraging law, — all these images pass before the eyes 
with tlie dash of a torrent and the force of a great river. 
Phrase follows phrase without intermission, ideas and 
facts crowd into the dialogue to paint a situation, to 
give clearness to a character, produced from this deep 
memory, directed by this solid logic, launched by this 
powerful reflection. It is a pleasure to see him ad- 
vance weighted with so many observations and recol- 
lections, loaded with technical details and learned 
reminiscences, without deviation or pause, a genuine 
literary Leviathan, like the war elephants which used 
to bear towers, men, weapons, machines, on their backs, 
and ran as swiftly with their freight as a nimble steed. 
In the great dash of this heavy attempt, he finds a 
path which suits him. He has his style. Classical 
erudition and education made him a classic, and he 
writes like his Greek models and his Eoman masters. 
The more we study the Latin races and literatures in 
contrast with the Teutonic, the more fuDy we become 
convinced that the proper and distinctive gift of the 
first is the art of development, that is, of drawing up 
ideas in continuous rows, according to the rules of rhe- 
toric and eloquence, by studied transitions, with regular 
progress, witliout shock or bounds. Jonson received 
&om his acquaintance witli the ancients the habit of 
decomposing ideas, unfolding them bit by bit in natural 
order, making himself understood and believed. From 
the first thought to the final conclusion, he conducts 
the reader by a continuous and uniform ascent The 
track never faUs with him as witli Shakspeare. He does 
not advance like the rest by abrupt intuitions, but by 
consecutive deductions ; we can walk with him without 
need of bounding, and we are continually kept upon the 


straight path : antitheBis of words unfolds antithesis of 
thoi^hts ; symmettical phrases guide the mind throngh 
difficult ideas ; they are like barriers set on either side 
of the road to prevent our falling into the ditch. We 
do not meet on our way extraordinary, sudden, gorgeous 
images, which might dazzle or delay us ; we travel on, en- 
lightened by moderate and sustained metaphors. Jonson 
has all the methods of Latin art ; even, when he wishes 
it, especially on Latin subjects, he has the last and 
most erudite, the brilliant conciseness of Seneca and 
Lucan, the squared equipoised, filed off antithesis, the 
most happy and studied artifices of oratorical archi- 
tecture.^ Other poets are nearly visionaries ; Jonson is 
almost a logician. 

Hence his tAlent, his successes, and his faults : if he 
has a better style and better plots than the others, he 
is not, like them, a creator of souls. He is too much 
of a theorist, too preoccupied by rules. His argumenta- 
tive habits spoil him when he seeks to shape and motion 
complete and hving men. No one is capable of 
fashioning these unless he possesses, like Shakspeare, 
the im^ination of a seer. The human being is so 
complex that the It^cian who perceives his different 
elements in succession can hardly study them all, much 
less gather them all in one flash, so as to produce the 
dramatic response or action in which they are concen- 
trated and which should manifest them. To discover 
such actions and responses, we need a kind of inspiration 
and fever. Then the mind works as in a dream. The 
characters move within the poet, almost involuntarily : 
he waits for them to speak, he remains motionless, 
hearing their voices, wholly wrapt in contemplation, in 
' S^anua, OaUiina, prutbn. 

10 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

order that he may not disturb the inner drama which 
they are about to act in his souL That is his artifice : 
to let them alona He is quite astonished at their dis- 
course ; as he observes them, he forgets that it is he 
who invents them. Their mood, character, education, 
disposition of mind, situation, attitude, and actions, 
form within him so well-connected a whole, and so 
readily unite into palpable and soUd beings, that he 
dares not attribute to his reflection or reasoning a 
creation so vast and speedy. Beings are organised in 
him as in nature, that is, of themselves, and by a force 
which the combinations of his art could not replace.^ 
Jonson has nothing wherewith to replace it but these 
combinations of art. He chooses a general idea — cun- 
ning, folly, severity — and makes a person out of it 
This person is called Crites, Asper, Sordido, Deliro, 
Pecunia, Subtil, and the transparent name indicates the 
logical process which produced it. The poet took an 
abstract quality, and putting together all the actions to 
which it may give rise, trots it out on the stage in a man's 
dress. His characters, like those of la Bruyfere and 
Theophrastus, were hammered out of solid deductions. 
Now it is a vice selected from the catalogue of moral 
philosophy, sensuality thirsting for gold : this perverse 
double inclination becomes a personage. Sir Epicure 
Mammon ; before the alchemist, before the famulus, 
before his friend, before his mistress, in public or alone, 
all his words denote a greed of pleasure and of gold, 
and they express nothing more.^ Now it is a mania 

^ Alfred de Musset, preface to La Coupe et les Ltvrea, Plato : Ion, 
' Compare Sir Epicure Mammon with Baron Hulot from Balzac's 

Cousine BetU, Balzac, who is learned like Jonson, creates real beings 

like Shakspeare. 


gathered from the old sophists, a babbling -with horror 
of noifla ; this form of mental pathology becomes a pei^ 
sonage, Morose ; the poet has the air of a doctor -who 
has undertaken to record exactly all l^e desires of 
speech, all the necessities of silence, and to record no- 
thing else. Now he picks out a ridicule, an afiecta- 
tion, a species of folly, from the manners of the dandies 
and the courtiers ; a mode of swearing, an extravagant 
style, a habit of gesticulating, or any other oddity con- 
tracted by vanity or fashion. The hero whom he covers 
with these eccentricities, is overloaded by them. He 
disappears beneath Ms enormous trappings; he drags 
them about with him everywhere ; he cannot get rid 
of them for an iastant. We no longer see the man 
under tiie dress ; he is like a mannikin, oppressed 
under a cloak, too heavy for him. Sometimes, doubtless, 
his habits of geometrical construction produce personages 
almost life-like. BobadU, the grave boaster; Captain 
Tucca, Uie beting bully, inventive buffoon, ridiculous 
talker; Amorphus the traveller, a pedantic doctor of 
good manners, laden with eccentric phrases, create as 
much illusion as we can wish ; but it is because they 
are flitting comicalities and low characters. It is not 
necessary for a poet to study such creatures ; it is 
enough that he discovers in them three or four leading 
features ; it is of little consequence if they always pre- 
sent themselves with the same attitudes ; they produce 
lai^ter, like the Countess (TEscarbaffnas or any of the 
Fdehaix in Moli^re; we want nothing else of them. 
On the contrary, the others weary and repel us. They 
are stage-masks, not living figures. Having acquired 
a fixed expression, they persist to the end of the piece 
in tlieir onvaiying grimace or their eternal frown. A 


man is not an abstract passion. He stamps the vices 
and virtues which he possesses with his individual mark. 
These vices and virtues receive, on entering into him, 
a bent and form which they have not in others. No 
one is unmixed sensuality. Take a thousand sensu- 
alists, and you will find a thousand different modes of 
sensuality ; for there are a thousand paths, a thousand 
circumstances and degrees, in sensuality. If Jonson 
wanted to make Sir Epicure Manmion a real being, he 
should have given him the kind of disposition, the 
species of education, the manner of imagination, which 
produce sensuality. When we wish to construct a 
man, we must dig down to the foundations of man- 
kind ; that is, we must define to ourselves the structure 
of his bodily machine, and the primitive gait of his 
mind. Jonson has not dug sufficiently deep, and his 
constructions are incomplete; he has built on the 
surface, and he has built but a single story. He was 
not acquainted with the whole man, and he ignored 
man's basis ; he put on the stage and gave a representa- 
tion of moral treatises, fragments of history, scraps of 
satire ; he did not stamp new beings on the imagina- 
tion of mankind. 

He possesses all other gifts, and in particular the 
classical ; first of all, the talent for composition. For 
the first time we see a connected, well-contrived plot, 
a complete intrigue, with its beginning, middle, and 
end ; subordinate actions well arranged, well combined ; 
an interest which grows and never flags; a leading 
truth which all the events tend to demonstrate; a 
ruling idea which all the characters unite to illustrate ; 
in short, an art like that which Molifere and Ecwine were 
about to apply and teach. He does not, like Shak- 


speaie, take a Bovel from Greene, a chronicle from 
Holinshed, a life from Plutarch, such as they are, to 
cut them into Bcenes, irrespective of likelihood, indiffer- 
ent as to order and unity, caring only to set up men, 
at times wandering into poetic reveries, at need fitdshing 
np the piece abruptly with a recognition or a butchery. 
He governs himself and bis characters ; he wills and he 
knows all that they do, and all that he does. But 
beyond his habits of Latin regularity, he possesses the 
great faculty of his ^e and race, — the sentiment of 
nature and existence, the exact knowledge of precise 
detail, the power in frankly and boldly handling frank 
passions. This gift is not wanting in any writer of the 
time; they do not fear words that are true, shock- 
ing, and striking details of the bedchamber or medical 
study ; the prudery of modem England and the refine- 
ment of monarchical France veil not the nudity of 
their figures, or dim the colouring of their picturea 
They live freely, amply, amidst living things ; they see 
the ins and outs of lust raging without any feeling of 
shame, hypocrisy, or palliation ; and they exhibit it as 
they see it, Jonson as boldly as the rest, occasionally 
more boldly than the rest, strengthened as be is by the 
vigour and niggedness of his athletic temperament, by 
the extraordinary exactness and abundance of his 
observations and his knowledge. Add also his moral 
loftiness, his asperity, his powerful chiding wrath, ex- 
asperated and bitter against vice, bis will strengthened 
by pride and by conscience : 

" With an anned tind resolved hand, 
111 atrip the ragged follies of the time 
Naked as at their birth . . . and with a whip of ateel, 
Print wounding lashes in their iroa ribs. 


I fear no mood stampt in a private brow, 
When I am pleas'd t' unmask a public vice. 
I fear no strumpet's drugs, nor ruffian's stab, 
Should I detect their hateful luxuries ; " ^ 

above all, a scorn of base compliance, an open disdain 

^^^ " Those jaded wits 

That run a broken pace for common hire," — ^ 

an enthusiasm, or deep love of 

" A happy muse, 
Borne on the wings of her immortal thought. 
That kicks at earth with a disdainful heel. 
And beats at heaven gates with her bright hoofs." ^ 

Such are the energies which he brought to the drama 
and to comedy ; they were great enough to ensure him 
a high and separate position. 


For whatever Jonson undertakes, whatever be his 
faults, haughtiness, rough-handling, predilection for 
morality and the past, antiquarian and censorious 
instincts, he is never little or dull. It signifies nothing 
that in his Latinised tragedies, Sejanus, Catiline, he is 
fettered by the worship of the old 'wom models of the 
Eoman decadence ; nothing that he plays the scholar, 
manufactures Ciceronian harangues, hauls in choruses 
imitated from Seneca, holds forth in the style of Lucan 
and the rhetors of the empire; he more than once 
attains a genuine accent ; through his pedantry, heavi- 
ness, literary adoration of the ancients, nature forces its 

* Every Man out of his Humour, Prologue. 
' FoetasUr, i. 1. • Ibid, 


way; he lights, at his first attempt, on the crudities, 
horrors, gigantic lewdness, shameless depravity of im- 
perial Borne ; he takes in hand and sets in motion the 
lusts and ferocities, the passions of courtesans and 
princesses, the daring of assassins and of great men, 
which produced Messalina,Agrippina, Catiline, Tiberius.^ 
In the Eome which he places before us we go boldly 
and straight to the end ; justice and pity oppose no 
barriers. Amid these customs of victors and slaves, 
human nature is upset ; corruption and villany are held 
as proofs of insight and energy. Observe how, in 
Sejanus, assassination is plotted and carried out with 
marvellous coolness. livia discusses with Sejanus the 
methods of poisoning her husband, in a clear style, 
without circumlocution, as if the subject were how to 
gain a lawsuit or to serve up a dinner. There are no 
equivocations, no hesitation, no remorse in the Eome 
of Tiberius. Glory and virtue consist in power; 
scruples are for base minds ; the mark of a lofty heart 
is to desire aU and to dare alL Macro says rightly : 

" Men's fortune there is virtue ; reason their will ; 
Their license, law ; and their observance, skiU. 
Occasion is their foil ; conscience, their stain ; 
Profit, their lustre ; and what else is, vain.'' ^ 

Sejanus addresses Livia thus : 

" Royal lady, . .". 
Yet, now I see your wisdom, judgment, strength, 
Quickness, and will, to apprehend the means 
To your own good and greatness, I protest 
Myself through rarified, and tum'd all flame 
In your affection." ^ 

^ See the second Act of Catiline. 
' The FaU of Sejanus, iii last Scene. ' Ibid, il 

16 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

These are the loves of the wolf and his mate ; he 
praises her for being so ready to kill. And observe in 
one moment tlie morals of a prostitute appear behind 
the manners of the poisoner. Sejanus goes out, and 
immediately, like a courtesan, Livia turns to her physi- 
cian, saying : 

" How do I look to-day 1 

Eudemut. Excellent clear, believe it. This same fucus 
Was well laid on. 

Livia, Methinks 'tis here not white. 

E, Lend me your scarlet, lady. Tis the sun 
Hath giv'n some little taint tmto the ceruse, 
You should have us'd of the white oil I gave you. 
Sejanus, for your love ! His very name 
Commandeth above Cupid or his shafts. . . . 

[Paintt htr chctkt^ 
" Tis now well, lady, you should 
Use of the dentifrice I prescribed you too. 
To clear your teeth, and the prepared pomatum. 
To smooth the skin. A lady cannot be 
Too curious of her form, that still would hold 
The heart of such a person, made her captive, 
As you have his : who, to endear him more 
In your clear eye, hath put away his wife . . . 
Fair Apicata, and made spacious room 
To your new pleasures. 

L. Have not we rctum'd 

That with our hate to Drusus, and discovery 
Of all his counsels ? . . . 

E, When will you take some physic, lady ? 
L. \Vhen 

I shall, Eudemus : but let Drusus* dnig 
Be first prepared. 

E, Were Lygdus made, that's done 

I'U send you a perfume, first to resolve 


And procure sweat, and then prepare a bath 
To cleanse and dear the cutis ; against when 
m have an excellent new fiicus made 
BeeistiTe 'gainst the sun, the rain or wind, 
WLich you shall lay on with a breath or oil. 
As you beet like, and last some foorte^ hours. 
Thia change came timely, lady, for your health." ' 

He ends by congratulating her on her approaching 
change of husbands; Druaus was injuring her com- 
plexion ; Sejanus is far preferable ; a physiological and 
practical conclusion. The Roman apothecary kept on 
the same shelf his medicine-chest, hia chest of cosmetics, 
and his box of poisons.' 

After this -we find one after another all the scenes of 
Koman life unfolded, the bargain of murder, the comedy 
of justice, the shamelessness of flattery, the anguish and 
Tacillation of the senate. When Sejanus wishes to buy 
a conscience, he questions, jokes, plays round the offer 
he is about to make, throws it out as if in pleasantry, 
so as to be able to withdraw it, if need be ; then, when 
the intelligent look of the rascal, whom he is trafficking 
with, shows that he is understood : 

" Protest not, 
Thy looks are vows to me. . . . 
Thou art a man, made to make consuls. Go." ' 

Elsewhere, the senator Latiaris in his own house storms 
before his Mend Sabinus, against tyranny, openly ex- 
presses a desire for liberty, provoking him to speak. 

^ The Fall o/Sganut, il 

* See Oift/tne, Act u. ; aTeryfinflKeneiDolMS plainspobeDanduii- 
nuted, on tiie diiapBtioii of the higher ranks in Rome. 
' The Fall of Scania, i. 
VOL. n. C 

18 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

Then two spies who were hid " between the roof and 
ceiling," cast themselves on Sabinus, crying, " Treason 
to Caesar ! " and drag him, with his face covered, before 
the tribimal, thence to "be tlirown upon the Gemonies."^ 
So, when the senate is assembled, Tiberius has chosen 
beforehand the accusers of Silius, and their parts dis- 
tributed to them. They mumble in a comer, whilst 
aloud is heard, in the emperor's presence : 

" CsBsar, 
Live long and happy, great and royal Caesar ; 
The gods preserve thee and thy modesty, 
Thy wisdom and thy innocence. . . . 

His meekness, Jove, his piety, his care, 
His bounty" 2 

Then the herald cites the accused ; Varro, the consul, 
pronounces the indictment ; Afer hurls upon them his 
bloodthirsty eloquence : the senators get excited ; we 
see laid bare, as in Tacitus and Juvenal, the depths of 
Roman servility, hypocrisy, insensibility, the venomous 
craft of Tiberius. At last, after so many others, the 
turn of Sejanus comes. The fathers anxiously assemble 
in the temple of Apollo ; for some days j^ast Tiberius 
has seemed to be trying to contradict himself; one day 
he appoints the friends of his favourite to high places, 
and the next day sets his enemies in eminent positions. 
The senators mark the face of Sejanus, and know not 
what to anticipate; Sejanus is troubled, then after a 
moment's cringing is more arrogant than ever. The 
plots are confused, the rumours contradictory* Macro 
alone is in the confidence of Tiberius, and soldiers are 

» The Fall of Sejanus, iv. * Ibid, iil 


seen, drawn up at the porch of the temple, ready to 
enter at the slightest commotion. The formula of con- 
vocation is read, and the council marks the names of 
those who do not respond to the sunmions; then 
Begulus addresses them, and announces that Gsesar 

" Propounds to this grave senate, the bestowing 
Upon the man he loves, honoured Sejanus, 
The tribunitial dignity and power : 
Here are his letters, signed with his signet. 
What pleaseth now the Fathers to be done 1 " 

'^ Senators, Read, read them, open, pubUcly read them. 

Cotta, Caesar hath honoured his own greatness much 
In thinking of this act. 

Trio. It was a thought 

Happy, and worthy Caesar. 

Latiaris, And the lord 

As worthy it, on whom it is directed ! 

Hateritis, Most worthy ! 

Sanquinius, Rome did never boast the virtue 
That could give envy bounds, but his : Sejanus — 

Ist Sen, Honour'd and noble ! 

2d Sen, Grood and great Sejanus ! 

Prcecones, Silence ! " ^ 

Tiberius' letter is read. First, long obscure and 
vague phrases, mingled with indirect protestations and 
accusations, foreboding something and revealing nothing. 
Suddenly comes an insinuation against Sejanus. The 
fathers are alarmed, but the next line reassures them. 
A word or two further on, the same insinuation is 
repeated with greater exactness. " Some there be that 
would interpret this his public severity to be particular 
ambition ; and that, imder a pretext of service to 

* The Fall of Sejanue, v. 

20 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

MB, he doth but remove his own lets: allying the 
strengths he hath made to himself, by the praetorian 
soldiers, by his faction in court and senate, by the 
offices he holds himself, and confers on others, his 
popularity and dependents, his urging (and almost 
driving) us to this our unwilling retirement, and lastly^ 
his aspiring to be our son-in-law." The fathers rise : 
" This is strange ! " Their eager eyes are &(ed on the 
letter, on Sejanus, who perspires and grows pale ; their 
thoughts are busy with conjectures, and the words of 
the letter fall one by one, amidst a sepulchral silence, 
caught up as they fall with all devouring and attentive 
eagerness. The senators anxiously weigh the value of 
these shifty expressions, fearing to compromise them- 
selves with the favourite or witii the prince, all feeling 
that they must understand, if they value their lives. 

" ' Your wudomty cofueript fathert, are able to examine^ and 
uneure thete iuggeetiont. But, were they left to our abiolving voiee^ 
toe durtt pronounce them, as we think them^ moit malidoui,* 

Senator. 0, he has restored all ; list. 

Prasco, ' Yet are they offered to he averr'd, and on the lives of 
ths informers,* " ^ 

At this word the letter becomes menacing. Those 
next Sejanus forsake him. "Sit farther. . . . Let's 
remove ! " The heavy Sanquinius leaps panting over 
the benches. The soldiers come in ; then Macro. 
And now, at last, the letter orders the arrest of Sejanus. 

" Begulus, Take him hence ; 
And all the gods guard Caesar ! 
Trio, Take him hence. 
Haterius. Hence. 

^ The Fall ofS^amus, t. 


Chtta, To the dungeon with him. 

Sanguinius. He deserves it. 

Senator. Grown all our doors with bays. 

San, And let an ox, 

With gilded horns and garlands, straight be led 

Unto the CapitoL 
Bat, And sacrific'd 

To Jove, for CsBsar's safety. 
Tri. All our gods 

Be present still to Caesar ! . . . 
Cot, Let all the traitor's titles be defac'd. 
Tri, His images and statues be pull'd down. . . . 
Sen, Liberty, liberty, liberty ! Lead on, 

And praise to Macro that hath saved Rome ! " ^ 

It is the baying of a furious pack of hounds, let 
loose at last on him, under whose hand they had 
crouched, and who had for a long time beaten and 
bruised them. Jonson discovered in his own energetic 
soul the energy of these Boman passions; and the 
clearness of his mind, added to his profound knowledge, 
powerless to construct characters, furnished him with 
general ideas and striking iacidents, which suffice to 
depict manners. 


Moreover, it was to this that he turned his talent 
Nearly all his work consists of comedies, not sentimen- 
tal and fanciful as Shakspeare's, but imitative and 
satirical, written to represent and correct follies and 
vices. He introduced a new model ; he had a doctrine ; 
his masters were Terence and Plautus. He observes 
the imity of time and place, almost exactly. He ridi- 
cules the authors who, in the same play, 

^ The Fall ofSeja^u^ v. 

22 THE RENAISSANCE. book it. 

^* Make a child now swaddled, to proceed 
Man, and then shoot up, in one beard and weed, 
Past threescore years ; or, with three rusty swords, 
And help of some few foot and half-foot words, 
Fight over York and Lancaster's long jars. . . . 
He rather prays you will be pleas'd to see." ^ 

He wishes to represent on the stage 

" One such to-day, as other plays shou'd be ; 
Where neither chorus wafts you o'er the seas. 
Nor creaking throne comes down the boys to please : 
Nor nimble squib is seen to make afeard 
The gentlewomen. . . . 

But deeds, and language, such as men do use. . . . 
You, that have so grac'd monsters, may like men." ^ 

Men, as we see them in the streets, with their whims 
and humours — 

" When some one peculiar quality 
Doth so possess a man, that it doth draw 
All his affects, his spirits, and his powers 
In their confluctions, all to run one way. 
This may be truly said to be a humour." * 

It is these humours which he exposes to the light, not 
with the artists curiosity, but with the moralist's hate : 

" I will scourge those apes. 
And to these courteous eyes oppose a mirror. 
As large as is the stage whereon we act ; 
Where they shall see the time's deformity 
Anatomized in every nerve, and sinew, 
With constant courage, and contempt of fear. . . . 

My strict hand 
Was made to seize on vice, and with a gripe 

* Every Man in his HumouTy Prologue. 
* Ibid, » IMd. 


Squeeze out the humour of such spongy souls, 
As lick up every idle vanity." ^ 

Doubtless a determination so strong and decided 
does violence to the dramatic spirit. Jonson's comedies 
are not rarely harsh ; his characters are too grotesque, 
laboriously constructed, mere automatons; the poet 
thought less of producing living beings than of scotching 
a vice ; the scenes get arranged, or are confused together 
in a mechanical manner ; we see the process, we feel 
the satirical intention throughout ; delicate and easy- 
flowing imitation is absenti as well as the graceful 
fancy which abounds in Shakspeare. But if Jonson 
comes across harsh passions, visibly evil and vile, he 
will derive from his energy and wrath the talent to 
render them odious and visible, and will produce a 
Volpone, a sublime work, the sharpest picture of the 
manners of the age, in which is displayed the full 
brightness of evil lusts, in which lewdness, cruelty, 
love of gold, shamelessness of vice, display a sinister 
yet splendid poetry, worthy of one of Titian's baccha- 
nals.^ All this makes itself apparent in the first scene, 
when Volpone says : 

" Good morning to the day ; and next, my gold ! 

Open the shrine, that I may see my saint." 

This saint is his piles of gold, jewels, precious plate : 

" Hail the world's soul, and mine ! . . . thou son of Sol, 
But brighter than thy father, let me kiss, 
With adoration, thee, and every relick 
Of sacred treasure in this blessed room."^ 

1 Boery Man <nU of his Hwnour, Prologue. 

' Compare Folpone with Regnard's Ugaiaire ; the end of the six 
teenth with the beginning of the eighteenth century. 
' Volpofne, i 1. 

24 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

Presently after, the dwarf, the eunuch, and the 
hermaphrodite of the house sing a sort of pagan and 
fantastic interlude; they chant in strange verses the 
metamorphoses of the hermaphrodite, who was first the 
soul of Pythagoras. We are at Venice, in the palace 
of the magnifico Volpone. These deformed creatures^ 
the splendour of gold, this strange and poetical buffoon- 
ery, carry the thought immediately to the sensual city^ 
queen of vices and of arts. 

The rich Volpone lives like an ancient Greek or 
Boman. Childless and without relatives, playing the 
invalid, he makes all his flatterers hope to be his heir, 
receives their gifts, 

** Letting the cheny knock against their lips, 
And draw it by their mouths, and back again." ^ 

Glad to have their gold, but still more glad to deceive 
them, artistic in wickedness as in avarice, and just as 
pleased to look at a contortion of suffering as at the 
sparkle of a ruby. 

The advocate Voltore arrives, bearing a " huge piece 
of plate." Volpone throws himself on his bed, wraps 
himself in furs, heaps up his pillows, and coughs as if 
at the point of death : 

" Volpone, I thank you, signior Voltore, 
Where is the plate 1 mine eyes are bad. . . . Your love 
Hath taste in this, and shall not be unanswered . . . 
I cannot now last long. . . I feel me going, — 
Uh,uh, uh, uh!"' 

He closes his eyes, as though exhausted : 

1 Folpane, I 1. « Ibid. I 3. 


'' VoUors, Am I inscrib'd Mb heir for certain ) 

Mosca (Volpon^t ParanU). Are you ! 

I do beseech you, sir, you will vouchsafe 
To write me in your fjEunily. All my hopes 
Depend upon your worship : I am lost, 
Except the rising sun do shine on me. 

VoU, It shall both shine and warm thee, Mosca. 
. M. Sir, 

I am man, that hath not done your love 
All the worst offices : here I wear your keys. 
See all your coffers and your caskets lock'd, 
Keep the poor inventory of your jeweb. 
Tour plate and monies ; am your steward, sir. 
Husband your goods here. 

VoU. But am I sole heir 1 

M, Without a partner, sir ; confirm'd this morning : 

The wax is warm yet, and the ink scarce dry 

Upon the parchment. 

VoU. Happy, happy, me ! 

By what good chance, sweet Mosca 1 

M. Your desert, sir ; 

I know no second cause." ^ 

And he details the abundance of the wealth in which 
Voltore is about to revel, the gold which is to pour 
upon him, the opulence which is to flow in his house 
as a river : 

" When will you have your inventory brought, sir 1 
Or see a copy of the will 1 " 

The imagination is fed with precise words, precise 
details. Thus, one after another, the would-be heirs 
come like beasts of prey. The second who arrives is 
an old miser, Corbaccio, deaf, " impotent," almost dying, 

^ Vblponef L 3. 

26 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

who nevertheless hopes to survive Volpone. To make 
more sure of it, he would fain have Mosca give his 
master a narcotic. He has it about him, this excellent 
opiate: he has had it prepared under his own eyes, 
he suggests it. His joy on finding Volpone more ill 
than himself is bitterly humorous : 

" Chrbaceio, How does your patron 1 . . . 

Mosca. His mouth 

Is ever gaping, and his eyelids hang. 

C, Good. 

M, A freezing numbness stiffens all bis joints, 
And makes the colour of his flesh like lead. 

a Tisgood. 

M. His pulse beats slow, and dull 

C. Grood symptoms still. 

M, And firom his brain — 

C I conceive you ; good. 

M, Flows a cold sweat, with a continual rheum, 
Forth the resolved comers of his eyes. 

(7. Is't possible ? Yet I am better, ha ! 
How does he, with the swinuning of his head ? 

M, 0, sir, 'tis past the scotomy ; he now 
Hath lost his feeling, and hath left to snort : 
You hardly can perceive him, that he breathes. 

C, Excellent, excellent ! sure I shall outlast him : 
This makes me young again, a score of years." ^ 

If you would be his heir, says Mosca, the moment is 
favourable ; but you must not let yourself be forestalled. 
Voltore has been here, and presented him with this 
piece of plate : 

** C. See, Mosca, look, 

Here, I have brought a bag of bright chequines, 
Will quite weigh down his plate. . . . 

* Volpone^ i 4. 


M, Now, would I counsel you, make home with epeed ; 
There, frame a will ; whereto you shall inscribe 
My master your sole heir. . . . 

a This plot 

Did I think on before. . . . 

M, And you so certain to survive him — 

a Ay. 

M. Being so lusty a man — 

a 'Tis true." ^ 

And the old man hobbles away, not hearing the insults 
and ridicule thrown at him, he is so deaf. 

When he is gone the merchant Corvino arrives, 
bringing an orient pearl and a splendid diamond : 

" Coiviiio, Am I his heir 1 

Mosca. Sir, I am sworn, I may not show the will 
Till he be dead ; but here has been Corbaccio, 
Here has been Voltore, here were others too, 
I cannot number 'em, they were so many ; 
All gaping here for legacies : but I, 
Taking the vantage of his naming you, 
Signior CarviriOy Signior Corvino, took 
Paper, and pen, and ink, and there I asked him, 
Whom he would have his heir 1 Corvino. Who 
Should be executor ? Corvino. And, 
To any question he was silent to, 
I still interpreted the nods he made, 
Through weakness, for consent : and sent home th' others, 
Nothing bequeathed them, but to cry and curse. 

Cor. my dear Mosca ! . . . Has he children ) 

M. Bastards, 
Some dozen, or more, that he begot on beggars, 
Gypsies, and Jews, and black-moors, when he was drunk. . . . 

^ Vblpone, i. 4. 


Speak oat: 
You may be loader yet . . . 
Faith, I coald stifle him rarely with a pillow, 
Ab well as any woman that shoald keep him. 
C. Do as yoa will ; bat 111 begone." ^ 

Corvino presently departs; for the passions of the 
time have all the beauty of frankness. And Yolpone, 
casting aside his sick man's garb, cries : 

" My divine Mosca ! 
Thoa hast to-day oat gone thyself. . . . Prepare 
Me masic, dances, banqaets, all delights ; 
The Tark is not more sensaal in his pleasares, 
Than will Volpone." « 

On this invitation, Mosca draws a most voluptuous 
portrait of Cor\4no*s wife, Celia. Smitten with a 
sudden desire, Volpone dresses liimself as a mountebank, 
and goes singing under her windows with all the 
sprightliness of a quack ; for he is naturally a comedian, 
like a true Italian, of the same family as Scaramouch, 
as good an actor in the public square as in his house. 
Having once seen Celia, he resolves to obtain her at 
any price : 

" Mosca, take my keys, 
Gk)ld, plate, and jewels, all's at thy devotion ; 
Employ them how thou wilt ; nay, coin me too : 
So thou, in this, but crown my longings, Mosca." ^ 

Mosca then tells Corvino that some quack's oil has 
cured his master, and that they are looking for a 

» Volptme, i. 6. « Ibid, » Ibid, ii 2. 


" young woman, lusty and full of juice," to complete 
the cure: 

'' Have you no kinswoman 1 
Odso— Think, think, think, think, think, think, think, sir. 
One o' the doctors offer'd there his daughter. 
Corvino. How! 

Moica, Yes, signior Lupo, the physician. 

C. His daughter ! 

M. And a virgin, sir. . . . 

a Wretch I 

Goyetous wretch." ^ 

Though unreasonably jealous, Corvino is gradually 
induced to offer his wifa He has given too much 
already^ and would not lose his advantage. He is 
like a half-ruined gamester, who with a shaking hand 
throws on the green cloth the remainder of his fortune. 
He brings the poor sweet woman, weeping and resisting. 
Excited by his own hidden pangs, he becomes furious : 

" Be damn'd ! 
Heart, I will drag thee hence, home, by the hair ; 
Cry thee a strumpet through the streets ; rip up 
Thy mouth unto thine ears ; and slit thy nose ; 
Like a raw rochet ! — ^Do not tempt me ; come. 
Yield, I am loth — ^Death I I will buy some slave 
Whom I wiU kill, and bind thee to him, alive ; 
And at my window hang you forth, devising 
Some monstrous crime, which I, in capital letters, 
WlQ eat into thy flesh with aquafortis. 
And burning oorsives, on this stubborn breast. 
Now, lyy the blood thou hast incensed. 111 do it ! 

CtUa, Sir, what you please, you may, I am your martyr. 

Ccrwno, Be not thus obstinate, I have not deserv'd it : 

^ Volpone^ iL 2. 


Think who it is intrcats you. Prithee, sweet ; — 

Good faith thou shalt have jewels, gowns, attires. 

What thou wilt think, and ask. Do but go kiss him. 

Or touch him, but. For my sake. — At my suit. — 

Tliis once. — No ! not ! I shall remember this. 

Will you disgrace me thus 1 Do you thirst my undoing ? " * 

Mosca turned a moment before, to Volpone : 

Signior Corvino . . . hearing of the consultation had 
So lately, for your health, is come to offer, 
Or rather, sir, to prostitute. — 

Corviiio, Thanks, sweet Mosca. 

Mosca, Freely, unask'd, or unintreated. 

a WeU. 

Mo8ca, As the true fervent instance of his love. 
His own most fair and proper wife ; the beauty 
Only of price in Venice. — 

a Tis weU urg'd." 2 

Wliere can we see such blows launched and driven 
liard, full in the face, by the \aoleut hand of satire ? 
Celia is alone with Volpone, who, throwing off his 
feigned sickness, comes ii})on her, " as fresh, as hot, as 
liigh, and in as jovial ])light," as on the gala-days of 
the Republic, when he acted the part of the lovely 
Antinous. In his transport he sings a love song; his 
voluptuousness culminat<3S in poetry; for poetry was 
then in Italy the blossom of vice. He spreads before 
her pearls, diamonds, carbuncles. He is in raptures 
at the sight of the treasures, which he displays and 
sparkles before her eyes : 

* Volpone y iii. 5. We pray the reader to pardon us for Ben Jonson*8 
broadness. If I omit it, I cannot depict the sixteenth century. Grant 
the same indulgence to the historian as to the anatomist 

' Volponef iii 


" Take these, 
And wear, and lose them : yet remains an ear-ring 
To purchase them again, and this whole state. 
A gem but worth a private patrimony, 
Is nothing : we will eat such at a meal, 
The heads of parrots, tongues of nightingales. 
The brains of peacocks, and of estriches, 
Shall be our food. . . . 

Conscience ] Tis the beggar's virtue. . . . 
Thy baths shall be the juice of July flowers, 
Spirit of roses, and of violets. 
The milk of unicorns, and panthers' breath 
Gather'd in bags, and mixt with Cretan wines. ^ 
Our drink shall be prepared gold and amber ; 
Which we wiU take, until my roof whirl round 
With the vertigo : and my dwarf shall dance, 
My eunuch sing, my fool make up the antic. 
Whilst we, in changed shapes, act Ovid's tales. 
Thou, like Europa now, and I like Jove, 
Then I like Mars, and thou like Erycine ; 
So, of the rest, till we have quite run through, 
And wearied all the fables of the gods.*' ^ 

We recognise Venice in this splendour of debauchery 
— ^Venice, the throne of Aretinus, the country of Tintor- 
etto and Giorgione. Volpone seizes Celia : " Yield, or 
m force thee ! " But suddenly Bonario, disinherited 
son of Corbaccio, whom Mosca had concealed there with 
another design, enters violently, delivers her, wounds 
Mosca, and accuses Volpone before the tribunal, of 
imposture and rape. 

The three rascals who aim at being his Jieirs, work 
together to save Volpone. Corbaccio disavows his son, 

^ Volpone, iii. 6. 

32 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

and accuses him of parricide. Corvino declares his wife 
an adulteress, the shameless mistress of Bonaria Never 
on the stage was seen such energy of lying, such open 
villany. The husband, who knows his wife to be inno- 
cent, is the most eager : 

" This woman (please your fieitherhoods) is a whore, 
Of meet hot exercise, more than a partrich, 
Upon record. 

lit Advocate, No more. 

Corvino. Neighs like a jemiet 

Notary, Preserve the honour of the court 

C. I shaU, 

And modesty of your most reverend ears. 
And yet I hope that I may say, these eyes 
Have seen her glued unto that piece of cedar, 
That fine well-timber'd gallant ; and that here 
The letters may be read, thorough the horn, 
That make the story perfect. . . . 

3dAdv, His grief hath made him frantic. (Cdianooani.) 

a Rare ! PrettUy feign'd ! again ! " i 

They have Volpone brought in, like a dying man ; 
manufacture false " testimony, " to which Voltore gives 
weight with his advocate's tongue, with words worth a 
sequin apiece. They throw Celia and Bonario into 
prison, and Volpone is saved. This public imposture 
is for him only another comedy, a pleasant pastime, 
and a masterpiece. 

" Mosca. To gidl the court 

Volpone, And quite divert the torrent 
Upon the innocent. . . . 

M, You are not taken with it enough, methinks. 
V, 0, more than if I had eiy oy'd the wench V*^ 

1 Volpone, iv. 1. » Ibid. v. 1. 


To conclude, he writes a will in Mosca's favour, has Ms 
deaUi reported, hides behind a curtain, and enjoys the 
looks of Uie would-be heirs. They had just saved him 
from being thrown into prison, which makes the fun 
all the better ; the wickedness will be all the greater 
and more exquisite. " Torture 'em rarely," Volpone 
Bays to Mosca. The latt«r spreads the will on the 
table, and reads the inventory aloud. " Turkey carpets 
nine. Two cabinets, one of ebony, the other mother-of- 
pearL A perfum'd box, made of an onyx." The heirs 
are stupefied with disappointment, and Mosca drives 
them off with insults. He says to Corvino : 
" Why should you stay here 1 with what thought, what promise t 
Hear you ; do you not kaow, I know you an ass, 
And that yon would most fain have been a wittol, 
If fortune would have let you 1 That you are 
A declar'd cuckold, on good tenns 1 This pearl, 
You'll say, was youra J Right : this diamond 1 
III not den/t, bat thank you. Uuch here else f 
It may be so. Why, think that these good works 
May help to hide your bad. [Exit Corvino^ . , , 

Corbaceiti. I am cozen'd, cheated, by a parasite slave ; 
Harlot, thou hast gull'd me. 

Motca, Ybb, sir. Stop your mouth. 

Or I shall draw the only tooth is left. 
Are not you he, that filthy covetous wretch. 
With the three legs, that here, in hope of prey, 
Have, any time this three years, snufft about. 
With your most grov'ling nose, and would have bir'd 
He to the pois'ning of my patron, sir 1 
Are not you he that have to-day in court 
Profess'd the disinheriting of your son 1 
Feijur'd yourself) Go home, and die, aad stink." ' 
• Folpone, T. 1. 

34 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

Volpone goes out disguised, comes to each of them in 
turn, and succeeds in wringing their hearts. But Mosca, 
who has the will, acts with a high hand, and demands 
of Volpone half his fortune. The dispute between 
the two rascals discovers their impostures, and the 
master, the servant, with the three would-be heirs, are 
sent to the galleys, to prison, to the pilloiy — as Corvino 
says, to 

'' Have mine eyes beat out with stinking fish, 
Bruia'd firuit, and rotten eggs. — ^*Tia weU. Fm glad, 
I shall not see my shame yet.'' ^ 

No more vengeful comedy has been written, none more 
persistently athirst to make vice suffer, to unmask, 
triumph over, and punish it 

Where can be the gaiety of such a theatre ? In cari- 
cature and farce. There is a rough gaiety, a sort of 
physical, external laughter which suits this combative, 
drinking, blustering mood. It is thus that this mood 
relaxes from war-waging cmd murderous satire ; the 
pastime is appropriate to the manners of the time, 
excellent to attract men who look upon hanging as a 
good joke, and laugh to see the Puritan's ears cut. 
Put yourself for an instant in their place, and you will 
think like them, that The Silent Woman is a masterpiece. 
Morose is an old monomaniac, who has a horror of noise, 
but loves to speak. He inhabits a street so narrow that 
a carriage cannot enter it. He drives off with his stick 
the bear-leaders and sword-players, who venture to pass 
imder his windows. He has sent away his ser\'^ant 
whose shoes creaked ; and Mute, the new one, wears 
slippers " soled with wool," and only speaks in a whisper 

* Volpone^ V. 8. 


through a tube. Morose ends by forbidding the whisper, 
and makes him reply by signs. He is also rich, an 
uncle, and he ill-treats his nephew Sir Dauphine 
Eugenie, a man of wit, but who lacks money. We 
anticipate all the tortures which poor Morose is to 
suffer. Sir Dauphine finds him a supposed silent 
woman, the beautiful Epicoena Morose, enchanted by 
her brief replies and her voice, which he can hardly hear, 
marries her, to play his nephew a trick. It is his nephew 
who has played him a trick. As soon as she is married, 
Epicoene speaks, scolds, argues as loud and as long as a 
dozen women : — " Why, did you think you had married 
a statue ? or a motion only ? one of the French puppets, 
with the eyes tum'd witii a wire ? or some innocent 
out of the hospital, that would stand with her hands 
thus, and a plaise mouth, and look upon you ?"^ 

She orders the servants to speak louder ; she opens 
the doors wide to her friends. They arrive in shoals, 
offering their noisy congratulations to Morose. Five or 
six women's tongues overwhelm him all at once with 
compliments, questions, advice, remonstrances. A 
Mend of Sir Dauphine comes with a band of music, 
who play all together, suddenly, with their whole force. 
Morose says, " 0, a plot, a plot, a plot, a plot, upon 
me! This day I shall be their anvil to work on, 
they will grate me asunder. 'Tis worse than the noise 
of a saw." * A procession of servants is seen coming, 
with dishes in their hands ; it is the racket of a tavern 
which Sir Dauphine is bringing to his uncle. The 
guests clash the glasses, shout, drink healths ; they 
have with them a drum and trumpets which make 
great noise. Morose flees to the top of the house, puts 

^ Epkomt, iii 2. ' Ibid. m.2. 

36 THE RENAISSANCE. book il 

" a whole nest of night-caps" on his head and staffs 
up his ears. Captain Otter cries, " Sound, Tritons o' 
the Thames ! Nunc est bibendum, nunc pede libero,** 
" Villains, murderers, sons of the earth and traitors," cries 
Morose from above, " what do you there ? " The racket 
increases. Then the captain, somewhat " jovial," maligns 
his wife, who faUs upon him and gives hirn a good 
beating. Blows, cries, music, laughter, resound like 
thimder. It is the poetry of uproar. Here is a subject 
to shake coarse nerves, and to make the mighty chests 
of the companions of Drake and Essex shake with un- 
controllable laughter. " Kogues, hell-hounds, Stentors I 
. . . They have rent my roof, walls, and all my windows 
asimder, with their brazen throats ! " Morose casts him- 
self on his tormentors with his long sword, breaks the 
instruments, drives away the musicians, disperses the 
guests amidst an inexpressible uproar, gnashing his teeth, 
looking haggard. Aften^-ards they pronounce him mad, 
and discuss his madness before him.^ The disease in 
Greek is called /Aay/a, in Latin insania, furor, vel ecstasis 
mduncholica that is, cgressio, when a man ex melancholico 
evadit fanaticus. . . . But he may be but phreneticus 
yet, mistress ; and phrenetis is only delirium, or so." 
They tedk of the books which he must read aloud to 
cure him. They add by way of consolation, that his 
wife talks in her sleep, " and snores like a porpoise." 
" redeem me, fate ; redeem me, fate ! " cries the poor 
man.^ " For how many causes may a man be divorc'd, 
nephew ? " Sir Dauphine chooses two knaves, and 
disguises them, one as a priest, the other as a lawyer, 
who launch at his head Latin terms of civil and canon 
law, explain to Morose the twelve cases of nullity, 

^ Compare M. de Pourceaugnac in Moli^rc. ' Epiaxne, iv. 1, 2. 


jingle in his ears one after another the most barbarous 
words in their obscure vocabulary, wrangle, and make 
between them as much noise as a couple of bells in a 
belfty. Following their advice he declares himself impo- 
tent The wedding-guests propose to toss him in a 
blanket ; others demand an immediate inspection. Fall 
after fall, shame after shame ; nothing serves him ; his 
wife declares that she consents to " take him with all his 
faults." The lawyer proposes another legal method; 
Morose shall obtain a divorce by proving that his wife 
is faithless. Two boasting knights, who are present, 
declare that they have been her lovers. Morose, in 
raptures, throws himself at their knees, and embraces 
them. Epiccene weeps, and Morose seems to be de- 
livered. Suddenly the lawyer decides that the plan is 
of no avail, the infidelity having been committed before 
the marriage. " 0, this is worst of all worst worsts that 
heU could have devis'd ! marry a whore, and so much 
noise I " There is Morose then, declared impotent and 
a deceived husband, at his own request, in the eyes of 
the whole world, and moreover married for ever. Sir 
Dauphine comes in like a clever rascal, and as a suc- 
couring deity. " Allow me but five hundred during life, 
uncle/' and I firee you. Morose signs the deed of gift 
with alacrity ; and his nephew shows him that Epiccene 
is a boy in disguisa^ Add to this enchanting farce the 
funny ^rts of Ztwo accomplished and gallant knights, 
who, after having boasted of their bravery, receive 
gratefully, and before the ladies, flips and kicks.^ Never 
was coarse physical laughter more adroitly produced. 

^ EpieoBM^ T. 

' Ck>mpare Polichinelle in Le Mdlade vmaginaire ; G^ronte in Les 
Fourberiis de Scapin, 


In this broad coarse gaiety, this excess of noisy trana- 
port, you recognise the stout roysterer, the stalwart 
drinker who swallowed hogsheads of Canary, and made 
the windows of the Mermaid shake with his bursts of 


Jonson did not go beyond this ; he was not a philo- 
sopher like Moli^re, able to grasp and dramatise the 
crisis of human life, education, marriage, sickness, the 
chief characters of his country and century, the courtier, 
the tradesman, the hypocrite, the man of the world.* 
He remained on a lower level, in the comedy of plot,* 
the painting of the grotesque,* the representation of too 
transient subjects of ridicule,* too general vices.* If at 
times, as in the Alchemist, he has succeeded by the 
perfection of plot caid the vigour of satire, he has mis- 
carried more frequently by the ponderousness of his 
work and the lack of comic lightness. The critic in 
him mars the artist ; his literary calculations strip him 
of spontaneous invention ; he is too much of a writer 
and moralist, not enough of a mimic and an actor. But 
he is loftier from another side, for he is a poet ; almost 
all writers, prose-authors, preachers even, were so at the 
time we speak of. Fancy abounded, as well as the 
perception of colours and forms, the need and wont of 
enjoying through the imagination and the eyes. Many 
of Jonson's pieces, the Staple of News, Cynthia's Revels, 

* Compare VEcole des Femmes^ Tartuffe^ Le Misanthrope^ Le Bour- 
geois-gentilhomme, Le Mdlade irruiginaire, Otorges Dandin, 

' Compare les FourberUs de Scapin, 

* Compare les Fdchevx, 

* Compare les Pricieuses Ridicules. 
^ Compare the plays of Destouches. 


are fanciful and allegorical comedies like those of 
Aristophanes. He there dallies with the real, and 
beyond the real, with characters who are but theatrical 
masks, abstractions personified, buffooneries, decorations, 
dances, music, pretty laughing whims of a picturesque 
and sentimental imagination. Thus, in Cynthia's Revels, 
three children come on "pleading possession of the 
cloke" of black velvet, which an actor usually wore 
when he spoke the prologue. They draw lots for it ; 
one of the losers, in revenge, tells the audience before- 
hand the incidents of the piece. The others interrupt him 
at every sentence, put their hands on his mouth, and 
taking the cloak one after the other, begin to criticise 
the spectators and authors. This child's play, these 
gestures and loud voices, this little amusing dispute, 
divert the pubUc from their serious thoughts, and pre- 
pare them for the oddities which they are to look upon. 

We are in Greece, in the valley of Gargaphie, 
where Diana^ has proclaimed ''a solenm revels." Mer- 
cury and Cupid have come down, and begin by 
quarrelling; the latter says: "My light feather-heerd 
coz, what are you any more than my uncle Jove's 
pander ? a lacquey that runs on errands for him, and 
can whisper a light message to a loose wench with some 
round volubility? . . . One that sweeps the gods' 
drinking-room every morning, and sets the cushions in 
order again, which they threw one at another^s head 
over night ? " ^ 

They are good-tempered gods. Echo, awoke by 
Mercury weeps for the " too beauteous boy Narcissus " : 

" That trophy of self-loye, and spoil of nature, 
Who, now transformed into thb drooping flower, 

^ By Dianft, Queen Elizabeth is meant ' Cynthia* i Bevels, i 1. 

40 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

Hangs the repentant head, back from the stream. . • . 
Witness thy youth's dear sweets, here spent mitasted. 
Like a fair taper, with his own flame wasted I . . . 
And with thy water let this curse remain, 
As an inseparate plague, that who but taste 
A drop thereof, may, with the instant touch. 
Grow doatingly enamoured on themselves.** ^ 

The courtiers and ladies drink thereof, and behold, a 
sort of a review of the follies of the time, arranged, as 
in Aristophanes, in an improbable farce, a brilliant show. 
A silly spendthrift, Asotns, wishes to become a man of 
the court and of fashionable manners ; he takes for his 
master Amorphus, a learned traveller, expert in gal- 
lantry, who, to believe himself, is 

<< An essence so sublimated and refined by travel • . • able 
... to speak the mere extraction of language ; one that . . . 
was your first that ever enrich'd his oountiy with the true laws 
of the duello ; whose optics have drunk the spirit of beauty in 
some eight-score and eighteen princes' courts, where I have 
resided, and been there fortunate in the amours of three hundred 
forty and five ladies, all nobly if not princely descended, . . . 
in all so happy, as even admiration herself doth seem to fasten 
her kisses upon me." ^ 

Asotus learns at this good school the language of the 
court, fortifies himself like other people with quibbles, 
learned oaths, and metaphors ; he fibres ofif in succession 
supersubtle tirades, and duly imitates the grimaces and 
tortuous style of his masters. Then, when he has 
drunk the water of the fountain, becoming suddenly 
pert and rash, he proposes to all comers a tourna- 
ment of "court compliment" This odd tournament 

1 Oynthia'8 Bevels, L 1. » Ihid. 


is held before the ladies ; it comprises four jousts, 6Lnd 
at each the trumpets sound. The combatants perform 
in succession " the bare accost ; " " the better re- 
gard;" "the SOLEMN ADDRESS;" and "the perfect 
closk"^ In this grave buflFoonery the courtiers are 
beaten. The severe Crites, the moralist of the play, 
copies their language, and pierces them with their own 
weapons. Already, with grand declamation, he had 

rebuked them thus : 

" yanity, 
How are thy painted beauties doated on, 
By light, and Bmpty idiots ! how pursued 
With open and extended appetite 1 
How they do sweat, and run themselyes from breath, 
Eais'd on their toes, to catch thy airy forms. 
Still turning giddy, till they reel like drunkards, 
That buy the merry madness of one hour, 
With the long irksomeness of following time 1 " ^ 

To complete the overthrow of the vices, appear two 
symbolical masques, representing the contrary virtues. 
They pass gravely before the spectators, in splendid 
array, and the noble verses exchanged by the goddess 
and her companions raise the mind to the lofty regions 
of serene morality, whither the poet desires to carry us : 

'' Queen, and huntress, chaste and &ir, 
Now the sun is laid to sleep, 
Seated in thy silver chair, 
State in wonted manner keep. . . . 
Lay thy bow of pearl apart, 
And thy crystal shining quiver ; 
Give unto the flying hart 
Space to breathe, how short soeyer." ^ 

1 OyiUhia'8 Sevels, v. 2. • Ihid, I 1. » OyiUhia'BlUveU, t. 3. 

42 THE R£NAISSANCK book n. 

In the end, bidding the dancers to unmask, Cynthia 
shows that the vices have disguised themselves as 
virtues. She condemns them to make fit reparation, 
and to bathe themselves in Helicon. Two by two they 
go off singing a palinode, whilst the chorus sings the 
supplication " Good Mercury defend us." ^ Is it an 
opera or a comedy ? It is a lyrical comedy ; and if we 
do not discover in it the airy lightness of Aristophanes, 
at least we encounter, as in the Birds and the Frogs, 
the contrasts and medleys of poetic invention, which, 
through caricature and ode, the real and the impossible, 
the present and the past, sent forth to the four 
quarters of the globe, simultaneously unites all kinds 
of incompatibilities, and culls all flowers. 

Jonson went further than this, and entered the 
domain of pure poetry. He wrote delicate, voluptuous, 
charming love poems, worthy of the ancient idyllic 
muse.^ Above all, he was the great, the inexhaustible 
inventor of Masques, a kind of masquerades, ballets, 
poetic choruses, in which all the magnificence and the 
imagination of the English Eenaissance is displayed. 
The Greek gods, and all the ancient Olympus, the 
allegorical personages whom the artists of the time deli- 
neate in their pictures ; the antique heroes of popular 
legends ; £(11 worlds, the actual, the abstract, the divine, 
the himian, the ancient, the modem, are searched by 
his hands, brought on the stage to furnish costumes, 
harmonious groups, emblems, songs, whatever can excite, 
intoxicate the artistic sense. The dlite, moreover, of the 
kingdom is there on the stage. They are not mounte- 
banks moving about in borrowed clothes, clumsily 

* Cynthia* 8 Bevels, last scene. 
^ CelebratUm of CharxB — MiaceUaneofm Poems, 


worn, for which they are still in debt to the tailor; 
they are ladies of the courts great lords, the queen, in 
all the splendour of their rank and pride, with real 
diamonds, bent on displaying their riches, so that the 
whole splendour of the national life is concentrated in 
the opera which they enact, like jewels in a casket. 
What dresses ! what profusion of splendours ! what 
medley of strange characters, gipsies, witches, gods, 
heroes, pontiffs, gnomes, fantastic beings ! How many 
metamorphoses, jousts, dances, marriage songs I What 
variety of scenery, architecture, floating isles, triimiphal 
arches, symbolic spheres ! Gold glitters ; jewels flash ; 
purple absorbs the lustre-lights in its costly folds; 
streams of light shine upon the crumpled silks; 
diamond necklaces, darting flame, clasp the bare bosoms 
of the ladies ; strings of pearls are displayed, loop after 
loop, upon the silver-sown brocaded dresses ; gold em- 
broidery, weaving whimsical arabesques, depicts upon 
their dresses flowers, Ifruits, and figures, setting picture 
within picture. The steps of the throne bear groups 
of Cupids, each with a torch in his hand.^ On either 
side the fountains cast up plumes of pearls ; musicians, 
in purple 6uid scarlet, laurel-crowned, make harmony in 
the bowers. The trains of masques cross, commingling 
their groups ; " the one half in orange-tawny and silver, 
the otiber in sea-green and silver. The bodies and short 
skirts (were of) white and gold to both." 

Such pageants Jonson wrote year after year, almost 
to the end of his life, true feasts for the eyes, like the pro- 
cessions of Titian. Even when he grew to be old, his 
imagination, like that of Titian, remained abimdant and 
fresh. Though forsaken, lying gasping on his bed, feel- 

^ Masque of Beauty. 

44 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

ing the approach of death, in his supreme bitterness lie 
did not lose his faculties, but wrote The Sad Shepherd,ih% 
most graceful and pastoral of his pieces. Consider that 
this beautiful dream arose in a sick-chamber, amidst 
medicine bottles, physic, doctors, with a nurse at his side, 
amidst the anxieties of poverty and the choking-fits of 
a dropsy 1 He is transported to a green forest, in the 
days of Sobin Hood, amidst the gay chase and the great 
barking greyhounds. There are the malicious fairies^ 
who like Oberon and Titania, lead men to flounder in 
mishaps. There are open-souled lovers, who like 
Daphne and Chloe, taste with awe the painful sweet- 
ness of the first kiss. There lived Earine, whom the 
stream has " suck'd in," whom her lover, in his mad- 
ness, will not cease to lament : 

Who had her very being, and her name 
With the first knots or buddings of the spring, 
Bom with the primrose or the violet, 
Or earliest roses blown : when Cupid smil'd, 
And Venus led the graces out to dance. 
And all the flowers and sweets in nature's lap 
Leap'd out, and made their solemn conjuration 
To last but while she liv'd ! " . . . ^ 
*' But she, as chaste as \vas her name, Earine, 
Died undeflower'd : and now her sweet soul hovers 
Here in the air above us." - 

Above the poor old paralytic artist, poetry still 
hovers like a haze of light. Yes, he had cumbered 
himself with science, clogged himself with theories, 
constituted himself theatrical critic and social censor, 

1 Tht Sad Shepherd, i. 2. » Ibid, iii. 2. 


filled his soul with unrelenting indignation, fostered a 
combative and morose disposition ; but divine dreams 
never left him. He is the brother of Shakspeare. 


So now at last we are in the presence of one, whom 
we perceived before us through all the vistas of the 
Benaissance, like some vast oak to which all the forest 
ways converge. I will treat of Shakspeare by himself. In 
order to take him in completely, we must have a wide 
and open space. And yet how shall we comprehend 
him ? how lay bare Ms inner constitution ? Lofty words, 
eulogies, are all used in vain ; he needs no praise, but 
comprehension merely; and he can only be compre- 
hended by the aid of science. As the complicated 
revolutions of the heavenly bodies become intelligible 
only by use of a superior calculus, as the delicate trans- 
formations of vegetation and life need for their explana- 
tion the intervention of the most diflBcult chemical for- 
mulas, so the great works of art can be interpreted only 
by the most advanced psychological systems ; and we 
need the loftiest of all these to attain to Shakspeare's 
level — to the level of his age and his work, of Ms genius 
and of his art 

After all practical experience and accumulated 
observations of the soul, we find as the result that 
wiBdom and knowledge are in man only effects and 
fortuities. Man has no permanent and distinct force 
to secure truth to his intelligence, and common sense to 
Ms conduct. On the contrary, he is naturally unreason- 
able and deceived. The parts of Ms inner mechanism 
are like the wheels of clock-work, wMch go of themselves. 

46 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

blindly, carried away by impulse and weight, and which 
yet sometimes, by virtue of a certain unison, end by 
indicating the hour. This final intelligent motion is 
not natural, but fortuitous ; not spontaneous, but forced ; 
not innate, but acquired. The clock did not always go 
regularly ; on the contrary, it had to be regulated little 
by little, with much difficulty. Its regularity is not 
ensured ; it may go wrong at any time. Its r^ularity 
is not complete ; it only approximately marks the time. 
The mechanical force of each piece is always ready to 
drag all the rest from their proper action, and to dis- 
arrange the whole agreement So ideas, once in the mind, 
pull each their o\\ti way blindly and separately, and their 
imperfect agreement threatens confusion every moment 
Strictly speaking, man is mad, as the body is ill, by 
nature ; reason and liealth come to us as a momentary 
success, a lucky accident.^ If we forget this, it is be- 
cause we are now regidated, dulled, deadened, and 
because our internal motion has become gradually, by 
fricticm and reparation, half harmonised with the motion 
of things. But this is only a semblance; and the danger- 
ous primitive forces remain untameil and independent 
under the oixler which seems to restrain them. Let a 
great danger arise, a revolution take place, they will 
break out and explode, almost as terribly as in earlier 
times. For an idea is not a mere inner mark, employed 
to designate one aspect of things, inert, always ready to 
fall into order with other similar ones, so as to make 
an exact whole. However it may be reduced and dis- 
ciplined, it still retains a sensible tinge which shows 

* This itlca may he expanded psj'chologically : external perception, 
memory, are real hallucinations, etc. This is the analytical aspect : 
under another aspect reason and health are the natural goals. 


its likeness to an hallucination ; a degree of individual 
persistence which shows its likeness to a monomania ; 
a network of singular affinities which shows its likeness 
to the ravings of deliriimL Being such^ it is beyond 
question the rudiment of a nightmare, a habit, an ab- 
surdity. Let it become once developed in its entirety, 
as its tendency leads it/ and you will find that it is 
essentially an active and complete image, a vision draw- 
ing along with it a train of dreams and sensations, which 
increases of itself, suddenly, by a sort of rank and absorb- 
ing growth, and which ends by possessing, shaking, ex- 
hausting the whole man. After this, another, perhaps 
entirely opposite, tmd so on successively : there is 
nothing else in man, no tree and distinct power ; he is in 
himself but the process of these headlong impulses tmd 
swarming imaginations : civilisation has mutilated, at- 
tenuated, but not destroyed them; shocks, collisions, 
transports, sometimes at long intervals a sort of transient 
partial equilibrium : this is his real life, the life of a 
lunatic, who now and then simulates reason, but who is 
in reality ''such stuff as dreams are made on ;"^ and 
this is man, as Shakspeare has conceived him. No 
writer, not even Moli^re, has penetrated so far beneath 
the semblance of common sense and logic in which the 
human machine is enclosed, in order to disentangle the 
brute powers which constitute its substance and its 

How did Shakspeare succeed ? and by what extra- 
ordinary instinct did he divine the remote conclusions, 
the deepest insights of physiology and psychology ? 
He had a complete imagination ; his whole genius lies 

^ See Spinoza and Dngald Stewart : Conception in its natoral state 
s belie! ' Tempest, iv. 1. 

48 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

in that complete imagiuation. These words seem com- 
monplace and void of meaning. Let us examine them 
closer, to understand what they contain. When we think 
a thing, we, ordinary men, we only think a part of it ; 
we see one side, some isolated mark, sometimes two or 
three marks together ; for what is beyond, our sight 
fails us ; the infinite network of its infinitely-complicated 
and multiplied properties escapes us ; we feel vaguely 
that there is something beypnd our shallow ken, and 
this vague suspicion is the only part of our idea which 
at all reveals to us the great beyond. We are like tyro- 
naturalists, quiet people of limited understanding, who, 
wishing to represent an animal, recall its name and ticket 
in the musexmi, with some indistinct image of its hide 
and figure ; but their mind stops there. If it so happens 
that they wish to complete their knowledge, they lead 
their memory, by regular classifications, over the princi- 
pal characters of the animal, and slowly, discursively, 
piecemeal, bring at last the bare anatomy before their 
eyes. To this their idea is reduced, even when perfected; 
to this also most frequently is our conception reduced, 
even when elaborated. What a distance there is between 
this conception and the object, liow imperfectly and 
meanly the one represents the other, to what extent 
this mutilates that ; how the consecutive idea, dis- 
jointed in little, regularly arranged and inert fragments, 
resembles but slightly the organised, living thing, created 
simultaneously, ever in action, and ever transformed, 
words cannot explain. Picture to yourself, instead of 
this poor dry idea, propped up by a miserable mechani- 
cal linkwork of thought, the complete idea, that is, an 
inner representation, so abundant and full, that it ex- 
hausts all the properties and relations of the object, all 


its inward and outward aspects ; that it exhausts them 
instantaneously ; that it conceives of the entire animal, 
its colour, the play of the light upon its skin, its form, 
the quivering of its outstretched limbs, the flash of its 
eyes, tuid at the same time its passion of the moment, 
its excitement, its dash ; and beyond this its instincts, 
their composition, their causes, their history ; so that 
the himdred thousand characteristics which make up its 
condition and its nature find their analogues in the imagi- 
nation which concentrates and reflects them : there you 
have the artist's conception, the poet's — Shakspeare's ; 
80 that of the logician, of the mere savant 
or man of the world, the only one capable of penetrating 
to the very essence of existences, of extricating the 
inner from beneath the outer man, of feeling through 
sympathy, and imitating without effort, the irregular 
oscillation of human imaginations tmd impressions, of re- 
producing life with its infinite fluctuations, its apparent 
contradictions, its concealed logic ; in short, to create 
as nature creates. This is what is done by the other 
artists of this age ; they have the same kind of mind, 
and the some idea of life : you will find in Shakspeare 
only the same faculties, witli a still stronger impulse ; 
the same idea, with a still more prominent relief. 

VOL. n. E 



I AM alx)\it to describe an extraordinary species of mind, 
perjJexing to all the French modes of analysis and 
reasoning, all-powerful, excessive, master of the sublime 
as well as of the base ; the most creative mind that 
ever engaged in the exact copy of the details of actual 
existence, in the dazzling ca])rice of fancy, in the pro- 
found com])lications of superhuman passions ; a nature 
poetical, immonil, inspired, superior to reason by the 
sudden revelations of its seer's madness ; so extreme 
in joy and grief, so abrupt of gait, so agitated and im- 
petuous in its transports, that this great age alone could 
have cradled such a child. 


Of Shakspeare all came from within — I mean from 
his sold and his genius ; circumstances and the externals 
contributed but slightly to his development^ He was 
intimately bound up with liis age ; that is, he knew by 
experience the manners of country, court, and town ; he 
had visited the heights, depths, the middle ranks of man- 
kind ; notliing more. In all other respects, his life was 
commonplace ; its irregularities, troubles, passions, suc- 

^ RalhT^iiU:B Life of Shakapearc 


cesses, were, on the whole, such as we meet with every- 
where else.^ His father, a glover and wool-stapler, in 
very easy circiunstances, having married a sort of country 
heiress, had become high-bailiff and chief alderman in 
his little town ; but when Shakspeare was nearly four- 
teen he was on the verge of ruin, mortgaging his wife's 
property, obliged to resign his municipal offices, and to 
remove, his son from school to assist him in his business. 
The yoxmg fellow applied himself to it as well as he 
could, not without some scrapes and frolics : if we are 
to believe tradition, he was one of the thirsty souls of 
the place, with a mind to support the reputation of his 
little town in its drinking powers. Once, they say, 
having been beaten at Bideford in one of these ale-bouts, 
he returned staggering from the fight, or rather could 
not return, and passed the night with his comrades 
imder an apple-tree by the roadside. Without doubt 
lie had already begun to write verses, to rove about 
like a genuine poet, taking part in the noisy rustic 
feasts, the gay allegorical pastorals, the rich and bold 
outbreak of pagan and poetical life, as it was then to 
be found in an English village. At all events, he was 
not a pattern of propriety, and his passions were as 
precocious as they were imprudent While not yet 
nineteen years old, he married the daughter of a sub- 
stantial yeoman, about eight years older than himself — 
and not too soon, as she was about to become a mother.^ 
Other of his outbreaks were no more fortunate. It 

^ Bom 1564, died 1616. He adapted plays as early as 1591. The 
first play entirely from his pen appeared in 1593. — Payne Collier. 

^ Mr. Halliwell and other commentators try to prove that at this 
time the preliminary trothplight was regarded as the real marriage ; 
that this trothplight had taken place, and that there was therefore no 
izregolarity in Shakapeare's conduct. 

52 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

seems that he was fond of poaching, after the manner 
of the time, being " much given to all unluckinesse in 
stealing venison and rabbits," says the Rev. Bichard 
Davies;^ "particularly from Sir Thomas Lucy, who 
had him oft whipt and sometimes imprisoned, and at 
last made him fly the country ; . . . but his revenge 
w^as so great, that he is liis Justice Clodpate." More- 
over, about this time Shakspeare's father was in prison, 
his affairs were not prosperous, and he himself had 
three children, following one close upon the other; he 
must live, and life was hardly possible for him in his 
native town. He went to London, and took to the 
stage : took the lowest parts, was a " servant " in the 
theatre, that is, an apprentice, or perhaps a supernum- 
erary. They even said that he had begun still lower, 
and that to earn his bread ho had held gentlemen's 
horses at the door of the theatre.^ At all events he 
tasted misery, and felt, not in imagination, but in fjeuct, 
the sharp tliom of care, himiiliation, disgust, forced 
labour, public discredit, the power of the people. He 
was a comedian, one of " His Majesty's poor players/* ■ 
— a sad trade, d^raded in all ages by the contrasts 
and the falsehoods which it allows : still more degraded 
then by the brutalities of the crowd, who not seldom 
would stone the actors, and by the severities of the 
magistrates, who would sometimes condemn them to 
lose their ears. He felt it, and spoke of it with 
bitterness : 

^ Halliwell, 123. 

' All these anecdotes are traditions, and conseqaentlj mora or Um 
doubtful ; but the other facts are authentic. 

' Terms of an extant document He is named along with Barbadge 
and Greene. 


'' Alas, 'tis true I liave gone here and there 
And made myself a motley to the view, 
Gored mine own thoughts, sold cheap what is most dear." ^ 

And again: 

'' When in disgrace with fortune' and men's eyes, 
I all alone beweep my outcast state. 
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries, 
And look upon myself and curse my fate, 
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope. 
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed. . . . 
With what I most eiyoy contented least ; 
Yet in those thoughts myself almost despising." ' 

We shall find further on the traces of this long-endur- 
ing disgust, in his melancholy characters, as ^here he 

'' For who would bear the whips and scorns of time. 
The oppressors wrong, the proud man's contumely, 
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay, 
The insolence of office and the spurns 
That patient merit of the unworthy takes, 
Wh^ he himself might his quietus make 
With a bare bodkin]"* 

But the worst of this undervalued position is, that it eats 
into the soul. In the company of actors we become 
actors : it is vain to wish to keep clean, if you live in a 
dirty place ; it cannot be. No matter if a man braces 
himself; necessity drives him into a comer and sullies 

^ Scnfut 110. 

^ See Sonnets 91 and 111 ; also Hamlet, uL 2. Many of Hamlet's 
words would come better from the month of an actor than a prince. 
See also the 66th Sonnet, '* Tired with all these." 

> Sonnet 29. * Mamlet, iiL 1. 

54 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

him. The machinery of the decorations, the tawdriness 
and medley of the costumes, the smell of the tallow and 
the candles, in contrast with the parade of refinement 
and loftiness, all the cheats and sordidness of the 
representation, the bitter alternative of hissing or 
applause, the keeping of the highest and lowest com- 
pany, the habit of sporting ydth human passions, easily 
unliinge the soul, drive it down the slope of excess, 
tempt it to loose manners, green-room adventures, the 
loves of strolling actresses. Shakspeare escaped them 
no more than Moli^re, and grieved for it, like Moli&re : 

" 0, for my sake do you with Fortune chide, 
The guilty goddess of my harmful deeds, 
That did not better for my life provide 
Than public means which public manners breeds." ^ 

They used to relate in London, how his comrade Bur- 
badge, who played Richard III., having a rendezvous 
with the wife of a citizen, Shakspeare went before, was 
well received, and was pleasantly occupied, when 
Burbadge arrived, to whom he sent the message, that 
William the Conqueror came before Richard III.* We 
may take this as an example of the tricks and some- 
what coarse intrigues wliich are planned, and follow in 
quick succession, on this stage. Outside the theatre 
he lived with fashionable young nobles, Pembroke, 
Montgomery, Southampton,® and others, whose hot and 
licentious youth gratified his imagination and senses 
by the example of Italian pleasures and elegancies. 

^ Sonnet 111. 

' Anecdote written in 1602 on the authority of Tooley the actor. 
' The Earl of Southampton was nineteen years old when Shakspeare 
dedicated his Adonis to him. 


Add to this the rapture and transport of poetical nature, 
and this kind of afflux, this boiling over of all the 
powers and desires which takes place in brains of this 
kind, when the world for the first time opens before 
them, and you will understand the Venus and Adonis, 
" the first heir of his invention." In fact, it is a first 
cry, a cry in which the whole mjui is displayed. Never 
was seen a heart so quivering to the touch of beauty, 
of beauty of every kind, so delighted with the freshness 
and splendour of things, so eager and so excited in 
adoration and enjoyment, so violently and entirely 
carried to the very essence of voluptuousness. His 
Venus ia unique; no painting of Titian's has a more 
brilliant and delicious colouring ;^ no strumpet-goddess 
of Tintoretto or Giorgione is more soft and beautiful : 

** With blmdfold fury she begms to forage, 
Her &ce doth reek and smoke, her blood doth boil. . . . 

And glutton-like she feeds, jet never fiUeth ; 
Her lips are conquerors, his lips obey, 
Paying what ransom the insulter willeth ; 
Whose vulture thought doth pitch the price so high, 
That she will draw his lips' rich treasure dry.''^ 

" Even as an empty eagle, sharp by fast, 
Tires with her beak on feathers, flesh and bone, 
Shaking her wings, devouring all in haste, 
Till either gorge be stuflTd or prey be gone ; 
Even so she kiss'd his brow, his cheek, his chin, 
And where she ends she doth anew begin." ' 

All is taken by storm, the senses first, the eyes dazzled 
by carnal beauty, but the heart also from whence the 

^ See Titian's picture, Loves of the Gods, at Blenheim. 
* Fenua and Adonia, U 548-553. ' Ibid, I 55-60. 

56 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

poetry overflows : the fulness of youth inundates even 
inanimate things ; the country looks charming amidst 
the rays of the rising sun, the air, saturated with 
brightness, makes a gala-day ; 

" Lo, here the gentle lark, weary of rest, 
From his moist cabinet mounts up on high, 
And wakes the morning, from whose silver breast 
The sun ariseth in his majesty ; 
Who doth the world so gloriously behold 
That cedar-tops and hills seem burmsh'd gold." ^ 

An admirable debauch of imagination and rapture, yet 
disquieting; for such a mood will carry one a long 
way.^ No fair and frail dame in London was without 
Adonis on her table.^ Perhaps Shakspeare perceived 
that he had transcended the bounds, for the tone of his 
next poem, the Iia2)€ of Lwcrect, is quite different ; but 
as he had already a mind liberal enough to embrace at 
the same time, as he did afterwards in his dramas, the 
two extremes of things, he continued none the less to 
foUow his bent. The " sweet abandonment of love " 
was the great occupation of his life ; he was tender- 
hearted, and he was a poet : nothing more is required 
to be smitten, deceived, to suffer, to traverse without 
pause the circle of illusions and troubles, which whirls 
and whirls round, and never ends. 

He had many loves of tliis kind, amongst others one 
for a sort of Marion Delorme,* a miserable deluding de- 

^ Vtfn.vA and Adonis^ I, 863-858. 

^ Compare the first pieces of Alfred de Musset, Conies (Fltalie et 

• Crawley, quoted by Ph. Chasles, Ettides sur Shakspeare, 

* A famed French courtesan (1613-1650), the heroine of a drama of 
that name, by Victor Hugo, having for its subject-matter: "LoTe 
purifies everything. "—Te. 


spotic passion, of which he felt the burden and the 
shame, but from which nevertheless he could not and 
would not free himself. Nothing can be sadder than 
his confessions, or mark better the madness of love, and 
the sentiment of human weakness : 

'' When my love swears that she is made of truth, 
I do belieye her, though I know she lies." ^ 

So spoke Alceste of C^limfene ;^ but what a soiled C^li- 
mine is the creature before whom Shakspeare kneels, 
with as much of scorn as of desire ! 

'' Those lips of thine, 
That have profaned their scarlet ornaments 
And seal'd false bonds of love as oft as mine, 
Bobb'd others' beds' revenues of their rents. 
Be it lawful I love thee, as thou lov'st those 
Whom thine eyes woo as mine importune thee.'' ' 

This is plain-speaking and deep shamelessness of soul, 
such as we find only in the stews ; and these are the 
intoxications, the excesses, the delirium into which the 
most refined artists fall, when they resign their own 
noble hand to these soft, voluptuous, and clinging ones. 
They are higher than princes, and they descend to the 
lowest depths of sensual passion. Good and evil then 
lose their names ; all things are inverted : 

'' How sweet and lovely dost thou make the shame 
Which, like a canker in the fragrant rose, 
Doth spot the beauty of thy budding name ! 
0, in what sweets dost thou thy sins enclose ! 

> S(mf%d 188. 

^ Two characters in Moliire*8 Misanthrope. The scene referred to 
is Act V. sc 7.— Tr. » Sonnet 142. 

58 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

That tongue that tells the story of thy days, 

Making lascivious comments on thy sport, 

Cannot dispraise but in a kind of praise ; 

Naming thy name blesses an ill report." ^ 

What are proofs, the will, reason, honour itself, when 
the passion is so absorbing ? What can be said further 
to a man who answers, " I know all that you are going 
to say, and what does it all amount to ?" Great loves 
are inundations, which dro^^Ti all repugnance and all 
delicacy of soul, all preconceived opinions and all 
received principles. Thenceforth the heart is dead to 
all ordinary pleasures : it can only feel and breathe on 
one side. Shakspeare envies the keys of the instrument 
over which his mistress' fingers run. If he looks at 
flowers, it is she whom he pictures beyond them ; and 
the extravagant splendours of dazzling poetry spring up 
in him repeatedly, as soon as he thinks of those glow- 
ing black eyes : 

" From you have I been absent in the spring, 
When proud-pied April dressed in all his trim, 
Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing, 
That heavy Saturn laugh'd and leap'd with him." ^ 

He saw none of it : 

" Nor did I wonder at the lily's white. 
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose." ' 

All this sweetness of si)ring was but her perfume and 
her shade : 

" The forward violet thus I did chide : 
* Sweet tliief, whence didst thou steal thy sweet that smells. 
If not from my love's breath ? The purple pride, 

» Sonna 95. > Sonnet 98. » Ibid, 



Which on thy soft cheek for complexion dwells 
In my love's veins thou hast too grossly dyed.' 
The lily I condemned for thy hand, 
And buds of marjoram had stol'n thy hair : 
The roses fearfully on thorns did stand, 
One blushing shame, another white despair : 
A third, nor red nor white, had stol'n of both 
And to his robbery had annex'd thy breath ; . . . 
More flowers I noted, yet I none could see 
But sweet or colour it had stol'n from thee." ^ 

Passionate archness, delicious aflTectations, worthy of 
Heine and the contemporaries of Dante, which tell us 
of long rapturous dreams concentrated on one object 
Under a sway so imperious and sustained, what senti- 
ment could maintain its ground? That of family? 
He was married and had children, — a family which he 
went to see " once a year ; " and it was probably on 
his return from one of these journeys that he used the 
words above quoted. Conscience? "Love is too 
young to know what conscience is." Jealousy and 

" For, thou betraying me, I do betray 
My nobler part to my gross body's treason." ^ 


" He is contented thy poor drudge to be 
To stand in thy afiOEdrs, fall by thy side." ^ 

He is no longer young; she loves another, a hand- 
some, young, light-haired fellow, his own dearest friend, 
whom he has presented to her, and whom she wishes 
to seduce: 

^ Sonna 99. » S(mnet 151. ' Ibid, 

60 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

" Two loves I have of comfort and despair, 
Which like two spirits do suggest me still : 
The better angel is a man right fair, 
The worscr spirit a woman coloor'd ill. 
To win me soon to hell, my female evil 
Tempteth my better angel from my side." ^ 

And when she has succeeded in this,^ he dares not 
confess it to himself, but suffers all, like Moli^re. 
What wretchedness is there in these trifles of every-day 
life! How man's thoughts instinctively place by 
Shakspeare's side the great unhappy French poet 
(Moli^re), also a philosopher by nature, but more of a 
professional laugher, a mocker of old men in love, a 
bitter railer at deceived husbands, who, after having 
played in one of his most approved comedies, said aloud 
to a friend, "My dear fellow, I am in despair; my 
wife does not love me ! " Neither glory, nor work, 
nor invention satisfy these vehement souls : love alone 
can gratify them, because, with their senses and heart, 
it contents also their brain; and all the powers of 
man, imagination like the rest, find in it their concen- 
tration and their employment " Love is my sin," he 
said, as did Musset and Heine ; and in the Sonnets we 
find traces of yet other passions, equally abandoned ; 
one in particular, seemingly for a great lady. The first 
half of his dramas, Midmimmcr Nights Dream, Romeo 
and Juliet, the Two Gentlemen of Verona, preser\'e the 
warm imprint more completely ; and we have only to 

* Sonnet 144 ; also the Passionate Pilgrim, 2. 

' This new interpn'tation of the Sonnets is due to the ingenious and 
learned conjectures of M. Ph. Chasles. — For a short history of these 
Sonnets, see Dyee's Shaksiyeare, i. pp. 96-102. This learned editor says : 
** I contend that allusions scattered through the whole series are not to 
be hastily referred to the personal circumstances of Shakspeare.'* — ^Tb. 


consider his latest women's character/ to see with 
what exquisite tenderness, what fuU adoration, he loved 
them to the end. 

In this is all his genius ; his was one of those deli- 
cate souls which, like a perfect instrument of music, 
vibrate of themselves at the slightest toucL This fine 
sensibility was the first thing observed in him. " My 
darling Shakspeare," " Sweet Swan of Avon : " these 
words of Ben Johnson only confirm what his contem- 
poraries reiterata He was affectionate and kind, "civil 
in demeanour, and excellent in the qualitie he pro> 
fesses ;"^ if he had the impulse, he had also the efPosion 
of true artists ; he was loved, men were delighted in 
his company ; nothing is more sweet or winning than 
this charm, this half-feminine abandonment in a man. 
His wit in conversation was ready, ingenious, nimble ; 
his gaiety brilliant; his imagination fluent, and so 
copious, that, as his friends tell us, he never erased 

^ Minwda, Desdemona, Viola. The following are the first words of 
the Duke in Ttodflh Night :— 

" If music be the food of love, play on ; 
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting, 
The appetite may sicken, and so die. 
That strain again ! it had a dying fall : 
O, it came o*er my ear like the sweet south. 
That breathes upon a bank of violets, 
Stealing and giving odour 1 Enough ; no more : 
Tis not so sweet now as it was before. 
O spirit of love ! how quick and fresh art thou. 
That, notwithstanding thy capacity 
Beceiveth as the sea, nought enters there, 
Of what validity and pitch soever, 
But faUs into abatement and low price, 
Even in a minute : so full of shapes is fancy 
That it alone is high-fantastical." 

' H. Chettle, in repudiating Greene's sarcasm, attributed to him. 

62 THE RENAISSANCE. book u. 

what he had written ; — at least when he wrote out a 
scene for the second time, it was the idea which he 
would change, not the words, by an after-glow of poetic 
thought, not with a painful tinkering of the verse. All 
these characteristics are combined into a single one : 
he had a sympathetic genius ; I mean that naturally 
he knew how to forget himself and become transfused 
into all the objects which he conceived. Look around 
you at the great artists of your time, try to approach 
them, to l>ecome acquainted with them, to see them as 
they think, and you will ol)ser\'e the fidl force of this 
word. By an extraordinarj' instinct, they put themselves 
at once in a ]>osition of existences ; men, animals, 
flowers, plants, landsaipes, whatever the objects are, liv- 
ing or not, they feel by intuition the forces and tenden- 
cies wliich ])roduce the visible external; and tlieirsoul, 
infinitely com])lex, becomes by its ceaseless metamor- 
phoses, a sort of abstract of the universe. Tliis is why 
they seem to live more than other men ; they have no 
need to be taught, they divine. I have seen such a 
man, apropos of a jiiece of annour, a costume, a collec- 
tion of furniture, enter into the middle-age more fully 
than three savants together. Tliey reconstruct, as 
they l.)uild, naturally, surely, by an inspiration wliich 
is a winged chain of reasoning. Shakspeare had only 
an imperfect education, " small Latin and less Greek," 
barely French and Italian,^ nothing else ; he had not 
travelled, he had only read the current literature of his 
day, he had picked up a few law words in the court of 
his little town : reckon up, if you can, all that he knew 
of man and of history. These men see more objects 

^ Dyce, Shakspeare^ i. 27 : "Of French and Italian, I apprehend, 
he knew but little."— Tb. 


at a time ; they grasp them more closely than other 
men, more quickly and thoroughly ; their mind is full, 
and runs over. They do not rest in simple reasoning ; 
at every idea their whole being, reflections, images, 
emotions, are set aquiver. See them at it ; they 
gesticulate, mimic their thought, brim over with com- 
parisons ; even in their talk they are imaginative and 
original, with familiarity and boldness of speech, some- 
times happily, always irregularly, according to the 
whims and starts of the adventurous improvisation. 
The animation, the brilliancy of their language is mar- 
vellous; so are their fits, the wide leaps with which 
they couple widely-removed ideas, annihilating distance, 
passing from pathos to humour, from vehemence to 
gentleness. This extraordinary rapture is the last 
thing to quit them. If perchance ideas fail, or if their 
melancholy is too violent, they still speak and produce, 
even if it be nonsense: they become clowns, though 
at their own expense, and to their own hurt. I know 
one of these men who wiU talk nonsense when he 
thinks he is dying, or has a mind to kill himself ; the 
inner wheel continues to turn, even upon nothing, that 
wheel which man must needs see ever turning, even 
though it tear him as it turns ; his buffoonery is an . 
outlet : you wiU find him, this inextinguishable urchin, 
this ironical puppet, at Ophelia's tomb, at Cleopatra's 
death-bed, at Juliet's funeral High or low, these 
men must always be at some extreme. They feel their 
good and their ill too deeply ; they expatiate too abun- 
dantly on each condition of their soul, by a sort of in- 
voluntary noveL After the traducings and the disgusts 
by which they debase themselves beyond measure, they 
rise and become exalted in a marvellous fashion, even 

64 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

trembling with pride and joy. " Haply," says Shak- 
8i)eare, after one of these dull moods : 

** Haply I think on thee, and then my state, 
Like to the lark at break of day arising 
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate." ^ 

Tlien all fades away, as in a furnace where a stronger 
flare than usual has left no substance fuel behind it 

" That time of year thou mayst in me behold 
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang 
UiKjn those boughs which shake against the cold, 
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang. 
In me thou sce'st the twilight of such day 
As after sunset fadeth in the west, 
Which by and by black night doth take away, 
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest." ' . . . 

" No longer mourn for me when I am dead 
Tlian you shall hear the surly sullen bell 
Give warning to the world that I am fled 
From this vile world, with vilest worms to dwell : 
Nay, if you read this line, remember not 
The hand that writ it ; for I love you so, 
That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot 
If thinking on me then should make you woe." ' 

These sudden alternatives of joy and sadness, divine 
transports and f^ind melancholies, exquisite tenderness 
and womanly depressions, depict the poet, extreme in 
emotions, ceaselessly troubled with grief or merriment^ 
feeling the slightest shock, more strong, more dainty in 
enjoyment and sufiering than other men, capable of 
more intense and sweeter dreams, within whom is 

^ Sonnet 29. ^ SonnU 73. * Sonnet 71. 


stiired an im^inaiy world of graceful or terrible beings, 
all impassioned like their author. 

Such as I have described him, hotrever, he found his 
resting-place. Early, at least what r^ards outward 
appearances, he settled down to an orderly, sensible, 
almost humdrum existence, engi^ed in business, pro- 
vident of the fntura He remained on the st^e for at 
least seventeen years, though taking secondary parts;* 
he sets his wits at the same time to the touching up of 
plays with so much activity, that Greene called him 
" an upstart crow beautified with our featheiB ; ... an 
absolute Johannes factotwm, in his owne conceyt the 
onely shake-scene in a countrey."^ At the i^e of 
thirty-three he had amassed money enough to buy at 
Stratford a house with two bams and two gardens, and 
he went on steadier and steadier in the same course. 
A man attains only to easy circumstances by his own 
labour; if he gains wealth, it is by making others 
labour for him. This is why, to the trades of actor and 
author, Sbakspeare added those of manager and director 
of a theatre. He acquired a share in the Blackfriars 
and Globe theatres, farmed tithes, bought laige pieces 
of land, more houses, gavo a dowry to his daughter 
Susanna, and finally retired to his native town on his 
property, in his own house, like a good landlord, an 
honest citizen, who manages his fortune Edy, and takes 
his share of municipal work. He had an income of 
two or three himdred pounds, which would be equiva- 
lent to about e^ht or twelve hundred at the present 
time, and according to tradition, lived cheerfully and 
on good terms with his neighbours ; at all events, it 

' The part in whicli ho excelled was that of the ghost in HamUL 

* QTe«De'« A OnMtmitrA of H'it, etc. 
VOL. n. F 

66 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

does not seem that ho thought much about his literaiy 
glory, for he did not even take the trouble to collect 
and publish his works. One of his daughters married 
a physician, the other a wine merchant ; the last did 
not even know how to sign her name. He lent money, 
and cut a good figure in this little world. Strange 
close ; one which at first sight resembles more that of 
a shopkeeper than of a poet Must we attribute it to 
that English instinct which places happiness in the life 
of a country gentleman and a landlord with a good 
rent-roll, well connected, surrounded by comforts, who 
quietly enjoys his undoubted respectability/ his do- 
mestic authority, and his county standing ? Or rather, 
was Shakspeare, like Voltaire, a common-sense man, 
though of an imaginative brain, keeping a sound 
judgment under the sparkling of his genius, prudent 
from scepticism, saving through a desire for independ- 
ence, and capable, after going the round of human ideas, 
of deciding with Candide,^ tliat the best thing one can 
do in this world is " to cultivate one's garden ?" I had 
rather think, as his fuU and solid head suggests,' that 
by the mere force of his overflowing imagination he 
escaped, like Goethe, the perils of an overflowing im- 
agination ; that in depicting passion, he succeeded, like 
Goethe, in deadening passion; that the fire did not 
break out in his conduct, because it found issue in his 
poetry; that his theatre kept pure his life; and that^ 
having passed, by sympathy, through every kind of 
folly and wretchedness that is incident to human ex- 

* "He was a respectable man.'' **A good word ; what does it 
mean ? " " He kept a gig."— (From ThurteU's trial for the mnider of 

^ The model of an optimist, the hero of one of Voltaire's tales. — ^Tb. 

' See his portraits, and in particular his bust 


istence, he was able to settle down amidst them with a 
calm and melancholic smile, listening, for the sake of 
relaxation, to the aerial music of the fancies in which he 
reveUed.^ I am willing to believe, lastly, that in frame 
as in other things, he belonged to his great generation 
and his great age; that with him, as with Babelais, 
Titian, Michel Angelo, and Rubens, the solidity of the 
muscles was a coimterpoise to the sensibility of the 
nerves ; that in those days the human machine, more 
severely tried and more firmly constructed, could with- 
stand the storms of passion and the fire of inspiration ; 
that soul and body were still at equilibrium ; that genius 
was then a blossom, and not, as now, a disease. We 
can but make conjectures about all this : if we would 
become acquainted more closely with the man, we 
must seek him in his works. 


Let us then look for the man, and in his style. The 
style explains the work ; whilst showing the principal 
features of the genius, it infers the rest. When we 
have once grasped the dominant faculty, we see the 
whole artist developed like a flower. 

Shakspeare imagines with copiousness and excess; 
he scatters metaphors profusely over all he writes ; every 
instant abstract ideas are changed into images ; it is a 
series of paintings which is unfolded in his mind. He 
does not seek them, they come of themselves; they 
crowd within him, covering his arguments ; they dim 
with their brightness the pure light of logic. He does 
not labour to explain or prove ; picture on picture, image 
on image, he is for ever copying the strange and splendid 

^ Especially in his later plays : Tempest, Twelfth NighL 

68 THE RENAISSANCE. book jl 

visions which are engendered one after another^ and are 
heaped up within him. Compare to our dull writers 
this passage, which I take at hazard from a tranquil 

" The single and peculiar life is bound, 
With all the strength and armour of the mind. 
To keep itself from noyance ; but much more 
That spirit upon whose weal depend and rest 
The lives of nuuiy. The cease of nugesty 
Dies not alone ; but, hke a gulf, doth draw 
What's near it with it : it is a massy wheel, 
Fix*d on the summit of the highest mount, 
To whose huge spokes ten thousand lesser things 
Are mortised and aciyoin'd ; which, when it fidls, 
Each small annezment, petty consequence, 
Attends the boisterous ruin. Never alone 
Did the king sigh, but with a general groan." ^ 

Here we have three successive images to express the 
same thought. It is a whole blossoming; a bough 
grows from the trunk, from that another, which is 
multiplied into numerous fresh branches. Instead of a 
smooth road, traced by a regular line of dry and 
cimningly-fixed landmarks, you enter a wood, crowded 
with interwoven trees and luxuriant bushes, which con- 
ceal and prevent your progress, which delight and dazzle 
your eyes by the magnificence of their verdure and the 
wealth of their bloom. You are astonished at first, 
modem mind that you are, business man, used to the 
clear dissertations of classical poetry ; you become cross ; 
you think the author is amusing himself, and that 
through conceit and bad taste he is misleading you and 
himself in his garden thickets. By no means ; if he 

^ Hamlet^ iii. 8. 


speaks thus, it is not from choice, but of necessity; 
metaphor is not his whim, but the form of his thought. 
I21 the height of passion, he imagines still. When 
Hamlet, in despair, remembers his fathei^s noble form, 
he sees the mythological pictures with which the taste 
of the age filled the very streets : 

" A station like the herald Mercuiy 
New Ughted on a heaven-kiflsing hill.** ^ 

This charming vision, in the midst of a bloody invective 
proves that there lurks a painter underneath the poet 
Involuntarily and out of season, he tears off the tragic 
mask which covered his face ; and the reader discovers, 
behind the contracted features of this terrible mask, a 
graceful and inspired smile which he did not expect 
to see. 

Such an imagination must needs be vehement. Every 
metaphor is a convulsion. Whosoever involuntarily 
and naturally transforms a dry idea into an image, has 
his brain on fire ; true metaphors are flaming apparitions, 
which are like a picture in a flash of lightning. Never, 
I think, in any nation of Europe, or in any age of 
history, has so grand a passion been seen. Shakspeare's 
style is a compound of frenzied expressions. No man 
has submitted words to such a contortion. Mingled 
contrasts, tremendous exaggerations, apostrophes, excla- 
mations the whole fury of the ode, confusion of ideas, 
accumulation of images, the horrible and the divine, 
jumbled into the same line ; it seems to my fancy as 
though he never writes a word without shouting it. 
'What have I done?' the queen asks Hamlet, He 
answers : 

^ Act iii Sc 4. 

70 THE RENAISSANCE. book u. 

** Such an act 
That blurs the grace and blush of modesty, 
Calls Tirtue hypocrite, takes off the rose 
From the fair forehead of an innocent love, 
And sets a blister there, makes marriage-vowB 
As false as dicers' oaths : 0, such a deed 
As from the body of contraction plucks 
The very soul, and sweet religion makes 
A rhapsody of words : Heaven's hce doth glow ; 
Yea, this solidity and compound mass, 
With tristful visage, as against the doom. 
Is thought-sick at the act." ^ 

It is the style of phrensy. Yet I have not given alL 
The metaphors are all exaggerated, the ideas all veige 
on the absurd. All is transformed and disfigured by 
the whirlwind of passion. The contagion of the ciiine» 
which he denounces, has marred all nature. He no 
longer sees anything in the world but corruption 
and lying. To vilify the virtuous were little; he 
vilifies virtue herseK. Inanimate things are sacked 
into this whirlpool of grief. The sky's red tint at 
sunset, the pallid darkness spread by night over the 
landscape, become the blush and the pallor of shame, 
and the wretched man who speaks and weeps sees the 
whole world totter with him in the dimness of despair. 
Hamlet, it will be said, is half-mad ; this explains 
the vehemence of his expressions. The truth is that 
Hamlet, here, is Shakspeare. Be the situation terrible 
or peaceful, whether he is engaged on an invective or 
a conversation, the style is excessive throughout. 
Shakspeare never sees things tranquilly. All the 
powers of his mind are concentrated in the present 

^ Act iii Sc. 4. 


image or idea. He is buried and absorbed in it 
With such a genius, we are on the brink of an abyss ; 
the eddying water dashes in headlong, swallowing up 
whatever objects it meets, and only bringing them to 
light transformed and mutilated. We pause stupefied 
before these convulsive metaphors, which might have 
been written by a fevered hand in a night's delirium, 
which gather a pageful of ideas and pictures in half a 
sentence, which scorch the eyes they would enlighten. 
Words lose their meaning ; constructions are put out of 
joint ; paradoxes of style, apparently false expressions, 
which a man might occasionally venture upon with 
diffidence in the transport of his rapture, become the 
ordinary language. Shakspeare dazzles, repels, terrifies, 
disgusts, oppresses ; his verses are a piercing and sub- 
lime song, pitched in too high a key, above the reach 
of our organs, which offends our ears, of which our 
mind alone can divine the justice and beauty. 

Yet this is little ; for that singular force of concen- 
tration is redoubled by the suddenness of the dash 
which calls it into existence. In Shakspeare there is 
no preparation, no adaptation, no development, no care 
to make himself understood. Like a too fiery and 
powerful horse, he bounds, but cannot run. He bridges 
in a couple of words an enormous interval ; is at the 
two poles in a single instant The reader vainly looks 
for the intermediate track; dazed by these prodigi- 
ous leaps, he wonders by what miracle the poet has 
entered upon a new idea the very moment when he 
quitted the last, seeing perhaps between the two images 
a long scale of transitions, which we mount with 
difficulty step by step, but which he has spanned in a 
strida Shakspeare flies, we creep. Hence comes a 

72 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

stylo made up of conceits, bold images shattered in an 
instant by others still bolder, barely indicated ideas 
completed by others far removed, no visible connection, 
but a visible incoherence ; at every step we halt, the 
track failing ; and there, far above us, lo, stands the 
poet, and we find that we have ventured in his foot- 
steps, through a craggy land, full of precipices, which 
he* threads, as if it were a straightforward road, but on 
which our greatest efforts barely carry us along. 

What will you think, further, if we observe that 
these vehement expressions, so natural in their up- 
welling, instead of following one after the other, slowly 
and with effort, are hurled out by hundreds, with an 
impetuous ease and abundance, like the bubbUng waves 
from a welling spring, which are heaped together, rise 
one above another, and find nowhere room enough to 
spread and exhaust themselves ? You may find in 
Jiovieo and Juliet a score of examples of this inexhaus- 
tible inspiration. The two lovers pile up an infinite 
mass of metaphors, impassioned exaggerations, clenches 
contorted phrases, amorous extravagances. Their lan- 
guage is like the trill of nightingales. Shakspeare's 
wits, Mercutio, Beatrice, Rosalind, his clowns, buffoons, 
sparkle with far-fetched jokes, which rattle out like a 
volley of musketry. There is none of tliem but provides 
enough play on words to stock a whole theatre, Leai^s 
curses, or Queen Margaret's, would suffice for all the 
madmen in an asylum, or all the oppressed of the earth. 
The sonnets are a delirium of ideas and images, laboured 
at with an obstinacy enough to make a man giddy. 
His first poem, Vemis mid Adonis, is the sensual 
ecstasy of a Correggio, insatiable and excited. This 
exuberant fecundity intensifies qualities already in 


excess, and multiplies a hundred-fold the luxuriance of 
metaphor, the incoherence of style, and the unbridled 
vehemence of expression.^ 

AU that I have said may be compressed into a few 
woids. Objects were taken into his mind organised 
and complete ; they pass into ours disjointed, decom- 
posed, fragmentarily. He thought in the lump, we 
think piecemeal; hence his style and our style — ^two 
languages not to be reconciled. We, for our part, 
writers and reasoners, can note precisely by a word 
each isolated fraction of an idea, and represent the due 
order of its parts by the due order of our expressions. 
We advance gradually ; we foUow the filiations, refer 
continually to the roots, try and treat our woids as 
numbers, our sentences as equations ; we employ but 
general terms, which every mind can understand, and 
r^ular constructions, into which any mind can enter ; 
we attain justness and clearness, not life. Shakspeare 
lets justness and clearness look out for themselves, and 
attains life. From amidst his complex conception and 
his coloured semi-vision he grasps a fragment, a 
quivering fibre, and shows it ; it is for you, from this 
fragment, to divine the rest. He, behind the word, 
has a whole picture, an attitude, a long argument 
abridged, a mass of swarming ideas ; you know them, 
these abbreviative, condensive words: these are they 
which we launch out amidst the fire of invention, in a 
fit of passion — woids of slang or of fashion, which 
appeal to local memory or individual experience ; ^ 

^ This is why, in tl^e eyes of a writer of the seyenteenth century, 
Shakspeare's style is the most obscure, pretentious, painful, barbarous, 
and absurd, that could be imagined. 

' Shakspeare's yocabulary is the most copious of alL It comprises 
abofQt 16,000 words ; Milton's only 8000. 


little desultory and incorrect phrases, which, by their 
irregularity, express the suddenness and the breaks of 
the inner sensation ; trivial words, exaggerated figures.^ 
There is a gesture beneath each, a quick contraction of 
the brows, a curl of laughing lips, a clown's trick, an 
unhinging of the whole machine. None of them mark 
ideas, aU suggest images ; each is the extremity and iome 
of a complete mimic action ; none is the expression and 
definition of a partial and limited idea. This is why 
Shakspeare is strange and powerful, obscure and crea- 
tive, beyond all the poets of his or any other age ; the 
most immoderate of all violators of language, the most 
marvellous of all creators of souls, the farthest removed 
from regular logic and classical reason, the one most 
capable of exciting in us a world of forms and of plac- 
ing living beings before us. 


Let us reconstruct this world, so as to find in it the 
imprint of its creator. A poet does not copy at random 
the manners which surround him ; he selects from this 
vast material, and involuntarily brings upon the stage 
the habits of the heart and conduct which best suit Ms 
talent. If he is a logician, a moralist, an orator, as, for 
instance, one of the French great tragic poets (Bacine) 
of the seventeenth century, he will only represent noble 
manners ; he will avoid low characters ; he will have 
a horror of menials and the plebs ; he will observe the 
greatest decorum amidst the strongest outbreaks of 
passion ; he will reject as scandalous every low or inde- 

^ See the conversation of Laertes and his sister, and of Laertes and 
Polonius, in Ilamltt. The style is foreign to the situation ; and we see 
here plainly the natural and necessary process of Shakspeare's thought 


cent word ; he will give us reason, loftiness, good taste 
throughout ; he will suppress the familiarity, childish- 
ness, artlessness, gay banter of domestic life ; he will 
Uot out precise details, special traits, and will carry 
tragedy into a serene and sublime ]»gion, where his 
abstract personages, unencumbered by time and space, 
after an exchange of eloquent harangues and able 
dissertations, will kill each other becomingly, and as 
though they were merely concluding a ceremony. 
Shakspeare does just the contrary, because his genius 
is the exact opposite. His master faculty is an impas- 
sioned imagination, freed from the shackles of reason 
and morality. He abandons himself to it, and finds in 
man nothing that he would care to lop off. He accepts 
nature and finds it beautiful in its entirety. He paints 
it in its littlenesses, its deformities, its weaknesses, its 
excesses, its irregularities, and in its rages ; he exhibits 
man at his meals, in bed, at play, drunk, mad, sick ; he 
adds that which ought not to be seen to that which 
passes on the stage. He does not dream of ennobling, 
but of copying human life, and aspires only to make his 
copy more energetic and more striking than the original 
Hence the morals of this drama ; and first, the want 
of dignity. Dignity arises firom self-command A 
man selects the most noble of his acts and attitudes, and 
allows himself no other. Shakspeare's characters select 
none, but allow themselves all. His kings are men, and 
fiithers of families. The terrible Leontes who is about 
to order the death of his wife and his friend, plays like 
a child with his son : caresses him, gives him all the 
pretty pet names which mothers are wont to employ ; 
he dares be trivial; he gabbles like a nurse; he has 
her language and fulfils her duties : 

76 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

" Leontet. What, hast smutch'd thy noBe f 
They say it is a copy out of mine. Come, cq>tain, 
We must be neat ; not neat, but cleanly, captain : . . . 
Come, sir page, 

Look on me with your welkin eye : sweet villain ! 
Most dearest ! my collop . . . Looking on the lines 
Of my boy's face, methoughts I did recoil 
Twenty-three years, and saw myself unbreech'd, 
In my green velvet coat, my dagger muzzled, 
Lest it should bite its master. . . . 
How like, methought, I then was to this kernel, 
This squash, this gentleman ! . . . My brother, 
Are you so fond of your young prince as we 
Do seem to be of ours f 

Polixenes, If at home, sir, 

He's all my exercise, my mirth, my matter. 
Now my sworn friend and then mine enemy. 
My parasite, my soldier, statesman, all : 
He makes a July's day short as December, 
And with his varying childness cures in me 
Thoughts that would thick my blood." ^ 

There are a score of such passages in Shakspeare. 
The great passions, with him as in nature, are preceded 
or followed by trivial actions, small-talk, commonplace 
sentiments. Strong emotions are accidents in our life : 
to drink, to eat, to talk of indifferent things, to carry out 
mechanically an habitual duty, to dream of some stale 
pleasure or some ordinary annoyance, that is in which we 
employ all our time. Shakspeare paints us as we are ; 
his heroes bow, ask people for news, speak of rain and 
fine weather, as often and as casually as ourselves, 
on the very eve of falling into the extremity of misery, 
or of plunging into fatal resolutions. Hamlet asks 

^ fFinUr*8 Tale, I 2. 


whatf s o'clock, finds the wind biting, talks of feasts and 
music heard without; and this quiet talk, so uncon- 
nected with the action, so full of slight, insignificant 
facts, which chance alone has raised up and guided, 
lasts until the moment when his father's ghost, rising 
in the darkness, reveals the assassination which it is 
his duty to avenga 

Season teUs us that our manners should be mea- 
sured ; this is why the manners which Shakspeare 
paints are not so. Pure nature is violent, passionate : 
it admits no excuses, suffers no middle course, takes no 
count of circumstances, wills blindly, breaks out into 
railing, has the irrationality, ardour, anger of children. 
Shakspeare's characters have hot blood and a ready 
hand They cannot restrain themselves, they abandon 
themselves at once to their grief, indignation, love, and 
plunge desperately down the steep slope, where their 
passion urges them. How many need I quote ? Timon, 
Posthumus, Cressida, all the young girls, all the chief 
characters in the great dramas ; everywhere Shakspeare 
paints the unreflecting impetuosity of the impulse of the 
moment Gapulet teUs his daughter Juliet that in three 
days she is to marry Earl Paris, and bids her be proud 
of it ; she answers that she is not proud of it, and yet 
she thanks the earl for this proof of love. Compare 
Capulef s fury with the anger of Orgon,^ and you may 
measure the difference of the two poets and the two 
civilisations : 

" Chpulet, How now, how now, chop-logic ! What is this f 
' Proud,' and ' I thank you,' and ' I thank you not ; ' 
And yet ' not proud/ mistress minion, you, 
Thank me no thankings, nor proud me no prouds, 

^ One of Moli^*s characters in Tctriuffe, — Ta. 


Bat fettle your fine joints 'gainst Thnnday next. 

To go with Paris to Saint Peter's church, 

Or I will drag thee on a hurdle thither. 

Out, you green-sickness carrion 1 out, you baggage ! 

You tallow-face ! 

Juliet. Good father, I beseech you on my knees, 
Hear me with patience but to speak a word. 

C, Hang thee, young baggage ! disobedient wretch ! 
I tell thee what : get thee to church o' Thursday, 
Or never after look me in the face : 
Speak not, reply not, do not answer me ; 
My fingers itch. . . . 

Lady C, You are too hot 

C, God's bread 1 it makes me mad : 
Day, night, hour, tide, time, work, play. 
Alone, in company, still my care hath been 
To have her match'd : and having now provided 
A gentleman of noble parentage, 
Of fair demesnes, youthful, and nobly train'd, 
Stufi^d, as they say, with honourable parts, 
Proportion'd as one's thought would wish a man ; 
And then to have a wretched piding fool, 
A whining mammet, in her fortune's tender. 
To answer, * Til not wed ; I cannot love, 
I am too young ; I pray you, pardon ww," — 
But, an you will not wed, I'll pardon you : 
Graze where you will, you shall not house with me : 
Look to't, think on't, I do not use to jest. 
Thursday is near ; lay hand on heart, advise : 
An you be mine, I'll give you to my friend ; 
An you be not, hang, beg, starve, die in the streets. 
For, by my soul, I'll ne'er acknowledge thee." ^ 

This method of exhorting one's child to marry is 
peculiar to Shakspeare and the sixteenth century. 

^ Borneo and Juliet, iii 5. 


Contradiction to these men was like a red rag to a 
bull ; it drove them mad. 

We might be sure that in this age, and on this stage, 
decency was a thing unknown. It is wearisome, being 
a check ; men got rid of it, because it was wearisome. 
It is a gift of reason and morality; as indecency is 
produced by nature and passion. Shakspeare's words 
are too indecent to be translated. His characters call 
things by their dirty names, and compel the thoughts 
to particular images of physical love. The talk of 
gentlemen and ladies is fall of coarse allusions; we 
should have to find out an alehouse of the lowest 
description to hear like words nowadays.^ 

It would be in an alehouse too that we should have 
to look for the rude jests and hmtel kind of wit which 
form the staple of these conversations. Kindly polite- 
ness is the slow fruit of advanced reflection; it is a 
sort of hmnanity and kindliness applied to small acts 
and everyday discourse; it bids man soften towards 
others, and forget himself for the sake of others; it 
constrains genuine nature, which is selfish and gross. 
This is why it is absent from the manners of the drama 
we are considering. You will see carmen, out of 
sportiveness and good hmnour, deal one another hard 
blows ; so it is pretty well with the conversation of the 
lords and ladies of Shakspeare who are in a sportive 
mood ; for instance, Beatrice and Benedick, very weU 
bred folk as things go,^ with a great reputation for wit 
and politeness, whose smart retorts create amusement 

^ ffenry Fill, ii 8, and many other scenes. 

' Much Ado db(nU Nothing, See also the manner in which Henry 
y. in Shakspeare's King Henry V. pays court to Katharine of France 
(T. 2). 

80 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

for the bystanders. These " skirmishes of wit** consist 
in telling one another plainly: You are a coward, a 
glutton, an idiot, a buffoon, a rake, a brute ! You are 
a parrot's tongue, a fool, a . . . (the word is there). 
Benedick says : 

" I will go ... to the Antipodes . . . rather than hold three 
words' conference with this harpy. ... I cannot endore 
my Lady Tongue. . . . 
Don Pedro, You have put him down, lady, you have pot 

him down. 
Beatrice, So I would not he should do me, my lord, lest I 
should prove the mother of fools." ^ 

We can infer the tone they use when in anger. F^milia^ 
in Othello, says : 

'' He caird her whore ; a beggar in his drink 
Coidd not have laid such terms upon his callat.'*^ 

They have a vocabulary of foul words as complete as 
that of Eabelais, and they exhaust it They catch up 
handfuls of mud, and hurl it at their enemy, not con- 
ceiving themselves to be smirched. 

Their actions correspond. They go without shame 
or pity to the limits of their passion. They kill^ poison, 
violate, bum ; the stage is full of abominations. 
Shakspeare lugs upon the stage all the atrocious deeds 
of the civil wars. These are the ways of wolves and 
hyaenas. "We must read of Jack Cade's sedition* to 
gain an idea of this madness and fury. We might 
imagine we were seeing infuriated beasts, the murderous 
recklessness of a wolf in a sheepfold, the brutality of 
a hog fouling and rolling himself in filth and blood. 

^ Much Ado abotU Nothing, iL 1. ' Act iv. 2. 

' Second Part of Henry VI, iv. 6. 


They destroy, kffl, butcher each other ; with their feet 
in the blood of their victims, they call for food and 
drink ; they stick heads on pikes and make them kiss 
one another, and they laugh. 

"Jack Cade. There shall be in England eeven halfpenny 
loaves sold for a penny. . ,,. There shall be no money ; aJl shall 
eat and drink on my score, and I will appaiel them all in one 
lively, ... And here sitting upon London-stone, I charge and 
command that, of the city's cost, the pissing-conduit run nothing 
but claret vine this Gist year of otir reign. . . . Away, burn all 
the records of the realm : my mouth shall be the parliament of 
England.' . . . And henceforth all things shall be in common. 
. . . What canst thou answer to my majesty for giving up of 
Normandy unto Mounsieur Basimecn, the dauphin of France t 
. . . The proudest peer in the realm ahaU not wear a head on 
his shoulders, unless he pay me tribute ; there shall not a maid 
be married, but she shall pay to me her maidenhead ere they 
have it. (lU-enttr tAcU leith tkt Keadt of Lord Say and bii xm- 
iK-Iow.) But is not this braver 1 Let them Mss one another, 
ibr they loved well when they were alive." ' 

Man must not be let loose ; we know not what lusts 
and rage may brood under a sober guise. Nature was 
never BO hideous, and this hideousness is the tnith. 

Are these cannibal manners only met with among 
the scum ? Why, the princes are worse. The Duke 
of Cornwall orders the old Earl of Gloucester to be tied 
to a chair, because, owing to him King Lear has escaped : 

" Fellows, hold the chair. 
Upon these eyes of thine I'll set my foot 

(OtoucetUr it held doum in the chair, vihiU GomvxtU ptuckt 
mU one of hi* eyee, aiid ul* hit foot on it.) 

I Smry VI. 2d put, iv. 2, 6, 7. 

82 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

Gloster, He that will think to live till he be old, 
Give me some help ! cruel : you gods ! 

Regan, One side will mock another ; the other too. 

Cornwall If you see vengeance, — 

Servant Hold your hand, my lord : 

I have served you ever since I was a child ; 
But better service have I never done you, 
Than now to bid you hold. 

Regan, How now, you dog ! 

Serv, If you did wear a beard upon your chin, 
I'd shake it on this quarrel. What do you mean 1 

Com, My villain ! Draws and runs at him,) 

tServ, Nay, then, come on, and take the chance of anger. 

(Draws ; they fight ; Cornwall is wounded.) 

Regan, Give me thy sword. A peasant stand up thus. 

(Snatches a sword ^ comes beJiindf and stabs him,) 

Serv, 0, I am slain ! My lord, you have one eye left 
To see some mischief on him. ! ' (Diet.) 

Com, Lest it see more, prevent it. Out, vile jelly 1 
Where is thy lustre now ] 

Gloster, All dark and comfortless. Where's my son 1 . . . 

Regan, Go thrust him out at gates, and let him smell 
His way to Dover." ^ 

Such are the manners of that stage. They are un- 
bridled, like those of the age, and like the poet's imagi- 
nation. To copy the common actions of every-day life, 
the puerilities and feeblenesses to which the greatest 
continually sink, the outbui-sts of passion wliich d^rade 
them, the indecent, hai"sh, or foul words, the atrocious 
deeds in which licence revels, the brutality and ferocity 
of primitive nature, is the work of a free and unen- 
cimibered imagination. To copy this hideousness and 
these excesses with a selection of such familiar, signi- 

^ King Lear, iii. 7. 


ficant, precise details, that they reveal under every 
word of every personage a complete civilisation, is the 
work of a concentrated and all-powerful imagination. 
This species of manners and this energy of description 
indicate the same faculty, unique and excessive, which 
the style had already indicated. 


On this common background stands out in striking 
relief a population of distinct living figures, illuminated 
by an intense light. This creative power is Shakspeare's 
great gift, and it communicates an extraordinary signifi- 
cance to his words. Every phrase pronounced by one 
of his characters enables us to see, besides the idea 
which it contains and the emotion which prompted it, 
the aggregate of the qualities and the entire character 
which produced it — the mood, physical attitude, bearing, 
look of the man, all instantaneously, with a clearness 
and force approached by no one. The words which 
strike our ears are not the thousandth part of those we 
hear within ; they are like sparks thrown off here and 
there ; the eyes catch rare flashes of flame ; the mind 
alone perceives the vast conflagration of which they are 
the signs and the effect. He gives us two dramas in 
one: the first strange, convulsive, curtailed, visible; 
the other consistent, immense, invisible ; the one covers 
the other so well, that as a rule we do not realise that 
we are perusing words : we hear the roU of those terrible 
voices, we see contracted features, glowing eyes, paUid 
faces ; we see the agitation, the fuiious resolutions which 
mount to the brain with the feverish blood, and descend 
to the sharp-strung nerves. This property possessed 
by every phrase to exhibit a world of sentiments and 

84 TEE RENAISSANCE. book il 

forms, comes from the fact that the phrase is actually 
caused by a world of emotions and images. Shakspeaie, 
when he wrote, felt all that we feel, and much besides. 
He had the prodigious faculty of seeing in a twinkling 
of the eye a complete character, body, mind, past and 
present, in every detail and every depth of his being, 
with the exact attitude and the expression of face, which 
the situation demanded. A word here and there of 
Hamlet or Othello would need for its explanation three 
pages of commentaries; each of the half-understood 
thoughts, which the commentator may have discovered, 
has left its trace in the turn of the phrase, in the nature 
of the metaphor, in the order of the words ; nowadays^ 
in pursuing these traces, we divine the thoughts. These 
innumerable traces have been impressed in a second, 
within the compass of a lina In the next line there 
are as many, impressed just as quickly, and in the same 
compass. You can gauge the concentration and the 
velocity of the imagination which creates thus. 

These characters are all of the same family. Good 
or bad, gross or delicate, witty or stupid, Shakspeare 
gives them all the same kind of spirit which is his own. 
He has made of them imaginative people, void of will and 
reason, impassioned machines, vehemently jostled one 
against another, who were outwardly whatever is most 
natural and most abandoned in human nature. Let us 
act the play to ourselves, and see in all its stages this 
clanship of figures, this prominence of portraits. 

Lowest of all are the stupid folk, babbling or brutish. 
Imagination already exists there, where reason is not 
yet bom ; it exists also there where reason is dead. 
The idiot and the brute blindly foUow the phantoms 
which exist in their benumbed or mechanical brains. 


No poet has understood this mechanism like Shak- 
speare. His Caliban, for instance, a deformed savage, 
fed on roots, growls like a beast under the hand of 
Prospero, who has subdued him. He howls continually 
against his master, though he knows that every curse 
will be paid back with *' cramps and aches." He is a 
chained wolf, trembling and fierce, who tries to bite 
when approached, and who crouches when he sees 
the lash raised. He has a foul sensuality, a loud 
base laugh, the gluttony of degraded humanity. He 
wished to violate Miranda in her sleep. He cries 
for his food, and gorges himself when he gets it. A 
sailor who had landed in the island, Stephano, gives 
him wine ; he kisses his feet, and takes him for a god ; 
he asks if he has not dropped from heaven, and adores 
him. We find in him rebellious and baffled passions, 
which are eager to rise again and to be satiated. Ste- 
phano had beaten his comrade. Caliban cries, "Beat 
him enough : after a little time I'U beat him too. " 
He prays Stephano to come with him and murder 
Prospero in his sleep ; he thirsts to lead him there, 
dances through joy and sees his master already with his 
'* weasand" cut, and his brains scattered on the earth : 

" Prithee, my king, be quiet. See'st thou here, 
This is the mouth o' the cell : no noise, and enter. 
Do that good mischief which may make this island 
Thine own for ever, and I, thy Caliban, 
For aye thy foot-licker." ^ 

Others, like Ajax and Cloten, are more like men, and 
yet it is pure mood that Shakspeare depicts in them, 
as in Caliban. The clogging corporeal machine, the 

^ The Tempest, iv. 1. 


mass of muscles, the thick blood sluggishly moving 
along in the veins of these fighting men, oppress the 
intelligence, and leave no life but for animal passions. 
Ajax uses his fists, and devours meat ; that is his exist- 
ence ; if he is jealous of Achilles, it is pretty much as 
a bull is jealous of his fellow. He permits himself to 
be restrained and led by Ulysses, without looking before 
him : the grossest flattery decoys him. The Greeks 
have urged him to accept Hector^s challenge. Behold 
him puffed up with pride, scorning to answer anyone^ not 
knowing what he says or does. Thersites cries, "Good- 
morrow, Ajax ;" and he replies, "Thanks, Agamemnon." 
He has no further thought than to contemplate bis 
enormous frame, and roll majestically his big stupid 
eyes. When the day of the fight has come, he strikes 
at Hector as on an anvil. After a good while they are 
separated. " I am not warm yet," says Ajax, " let us 
fight again." ^ Cloten is less massive than this phleg- 
matic ox ; but he is just as idiotic, just as vainglorious, 
just as coarse. Tlie beautiful Imogen, urged by his 
insults and his scullion manners, tells him that his 
whole body is not wortli as much as Posthumus' mean- 
est garment. He is stung to the quick, repeats the 
word several times ; he cannot shake ofif the idea, and 
runs at it again and again witli his head down, like 
an angry ram : 

" Cloten. * His garment 1 * Now, the devil — 

Imogen, To Dorothy my woman hie thee presently — 

C. * His garment T . . . You have abused me : ' His meanest 

garment !' ... Til be revenged : ' His meanest garment I ' 

Well" 2 

^ See Troilua and Cressida, ii 8, the jesting manner in which the 
generals drive on this fierce hrute. ' Cymheline^ ii 8. 


He gets some of Posthumiis* garments, and goes to 
Milford Haven, expecting to meet Imogen there. On 
his way he mutters thus : 

" With that suit upon my back, will I ravish her : first kill 
him, and in her eyes 3 there shall she see my valour, which will 
then be a torment to her contempt. He on the ground, my 
speech of insultment ended on his dead body, and when my lust 
has dined, — which, as I say, to vex her I will execute in the 
clothes that she so praised, — to the court I'll knock her back, 
foot her home again.'' ^ 

Others again, are but babblers : for example, Polonius, 
the grave brainless counsellor ; a great baby, not yet 
out of his " swathing clouts ; " a solemn booby, who 
rains on men a shower of counsels, compliments, and 
maxims ; a sort of court speaking-trimipet, useful in 
grand ceremonies, with the air of a thinker, but fit only 
to spout words. But the most complete of all these 
characters is that of the nurse in Eomeo and Juliet, a 
gossip, loose in her talk, a regular kitchen oracle, smell- 
ing of the stew-pan and old boots, foolish, impudent, 
immoral, but otherwise a good creature, and afTectionate 
to her nurse-child. Mark this disjointed and never- 
ending gossip's babble : 

" NuTM. 'Faith I can tell her age unto an hour. 

Lady Capulet, She's not fourteen. . . . 

Nurse. Come Lammas-eve at night shall she be fourteen. 
Susan and she — Grod rest all Christian souls ! — 
Were of an age : well, Susan is with God ; 
She was too good for me : but, as I said, 
On Lammas-eve at night shall she be fourteen ; 
That shall she, marry ; I remember it well. 

^ Cymbeline, iii. 5. 

88 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

'Tia Bince the earthquake now eleyen yean ; 

And she was wean'd, — I never shall forget it, — 

Of all the days of the year, upon that day : 

For I had then laid wormwood to my dug, 

Sitting in the sun imder the dove-house wall ; 

My lord and you were then at Mantua : — 

Nay, I do bear a brain : — but, as I said. 

When it did taste the wormwood on the nipple 

Of my dug and felt it bitter, pretty fool. 

To see it tetchy and fall out with the dug ! 

Shake, quoth the dove-house : 'twas no need, I trow. 

To bid me trudge : 

And since that time it is eleven years ; 

For then she could stand alone ; nay, by the rood. 

She could have run and waddled all about ; 

For even the day before, she broke her brow." ^ 

Then she tells an indecent anecdote, which she b^ins 
over again four times. She is silenced : what then ? 
She hits her anecdote in her head, and cannot cease 
repeating it and laughing to herself. Endless repeti- 
tions are the mind's first step. The vulgar do not 
pursue the straight line of reasoning and of the story ; 
they repeat their steps, as it were merely marking time : 
struck with an image, they keep it for an hour before 
their eyes, and are never tired of it. If they do ad- 
vance, they turn aside to a hundred subordinate ideas 
before they get at the phnise retj^uired. They allow 
themselves to be diverted by all the thoughts which 
come across them. This is what the nurse does ; and 
when she brings Juliet news of her lover, she torments 
and wearies her, less from a w^ish to tease than from a 
habit of wandering from the point : 

^ Eomeo and Juliet, i. 3. 


'' Nurse, Jesu, what haste ? can you not stay awhile ? 
Do you not see that I am out of breath ? 

Juliet. How art thou out of breath, when thou hast breath 
To say to me that thou art out of breath 1 
Is thy news good, or bad ? answer to that ; 
Say either, and I'll stay the circumstance : 
Let me be satisfied : ia't good or bad ? 

N. Well, you have made a simple choice ; you know not how 
to choose a man : Romeo I no, not he : though his face be better 
than any man's, yet his 1^ excels all men's ; and for a hand and 
a foot, and a body, though they be not to be talked on, yet they 
are past compare : he is not the flower of courtesy, but, I'll 
warrant him, as gentle as a lamb. Oo thy ways, wench ; serve 
God. What, have you dined at home ? 

/. No, no : but all this did I know before. 
What says he of our marriage ^ what of that ? 

N, Lord, how my head aches ! what a head haVe I ! 
It beats as it would fall in twenty pieces. 
My back o' t'other side, — 0, my back, my back ! 
Beshrew your heart for sending me about. 
To catch my death with jaunting up and down ! 

/. I' faith, I am sony that thou art not welL 
Sweet, sweet, sweet nurse, tell me, what says my love ? 

N, Your love says, like an honest gentleman, and a courteous, 
and a kind, and a handsome, and, I warrant, a virtuous, — 
Where is your mother ? " ^ 

It is never-ending. Her gabble is worse when she 
comes to announce to Juliet the death of her cousin 
and the banishment of Bomeo. It is the shrill cry 
and chatter of an overgrown asthmatic magpie. She 
laments, confuses the names, spins roundabout sentences, 
ends by asking for aqua-mtce. She curses Eomeo, then 
brings him to Juliet's chamber. Kext day Juliet is 

^ Borneo and Juliet, ii 5. 


ordered to marry Earl Paris ; Juliet throws herself into 
her nurse's anns, praying for comfort, advice, assistance. 
The other finds the true remedy : Marry Paris^ 

" 0, he's a lovely gentleman ! 
Romeo's a dishclout to him : an eagle, madam^ 
Hath not so green, so quick, so &ir an eye 
As Paris hath. Beshrew my very heart, 
I think you are happy in this second match, 
For it excels your first." ^ 

This cool immorality, these weather-cock arguments, 
tliis fashion of estimating love like a fishwoman, 
completes the portrait. 


The mechanical imagination produces Shakspeare's 
fool-characters : a quick venturesome dazzling, unquiet 
imagination, produces his men of wit Of wit there 
are many kinds. One, altogether French, which is but 
reason, a foe to paradox, scomer of foUy, a sort of in- 
cisive common sense, having no occupation but to 
render truth amusing and evident, the most effective 
weapon with an intelligent and vain people : such was 
the wit of Voltaire and the drawing-rooms. The other, 
that of improvisatores and artists, is a mere inventive 
rapture, paradoxical, imshackled, exuberant, a sort of 
self-entertainment, a phantasmagoria of images, flashes 
of wit, strange ideas, dazing and intoxicating, like the 
movement and illumination in a ball-room. Such is 
the wit of Mercutio, of the clowns, of Beatrice, Rosalind, 
and Benedick. They laugh, not from a sense of the 
ridiculous, but from the desire to laugh. You must 

^ Romeo and Juliet^ iii. 5. 


look elsewhere for the campaigns which a^ressive 
Teason makes against human folly. Here folly is in ita 
full bloom. Our folk think of amusement, and nothing 
more. They are good-humoured ; they let their wit 
prance gaily over the possible and the impossibla They 
play upon words, contort their sense, draw absurd and 
laughable inferences, send them back to one another, and 
vithout intennission, as if with shuttlecocks, and vie 
with each other in singularity and invention. They 
dress all their ideas in strange or sparkling metaphors. 
The taste of the time was for masquerades ; their 
conversation is a masquerade of ideas. They say 
nothing in a simple style ; they only seek to heap to- 
gether subtle things, far-fetched, difficidt to invent and 
to understand; all their expressions are over-refined, 
onexpected, extraordinary; they strain their thought, 
and change it into a caricature. " Alas, poor Romeo ! " 
says Mercutio, " he is already dead ; stabbed with a 
white wench's black eye ; shot through the ear with a 
Vjve-song, the very pin of his heart cleft with the blind 
bow-boy's butt-shaft."' Benedick relates a conversation 
he has just held with his mistress : " O, she misused 
me past the endurance of a block ! an oak, but with 
one green leaf on it would have answered her; my 
very visor began to assume life, and scold with her." ^ 
These gay and perpetual extravagances show the bearing 
of the speakers. They do not remain quietly seated in 
their chairs, like the Marquesses in the Misanthrope ; 
they whirl roimd, leap, paint their faces, gesticulate 
boldly their ideas ; their wit-rockets end with a song. 
Young folk, soldiers and artists, they let off their fire- 
works of phrases, and gambol round about. " There 
* Btmeo a»d Julitt, IL 1. * JfucA Ada about Sotking, iL I. 

92 THE RENAISSANCE. book il 

was a star danced, and under that was I bom." ^ This 
expression of Beatrice's aptly describes the kind of 
poetical, sparkling, unreasoning, channing wit, more 
akin to music than to literature, a sort of dream, 
which is spoken out aloud, and wliilst wide awake, not 
unlike that described by Mercutio : 

** 0, th>BD, I see Queen Mab bath been with you. 
She ia the fairies' midwife ; and she comes 
In shape no bigger than an agate-stone 
On the fore-finger of an alderman, 
Drawn with a team of little atomies 
Athwart men's noses as they lie asleep ; 
Her waggon-spokes made of long spinners' legs, 
The cover of the wings of grasshoppers, 
The traces of the smallest spider's web, 
The collars of the moonshine's watery beams, 
Her whip of cricket's bone, the lash of film, 
Her waggoner a small grey-coated gnat, 
Not half so big as a round little worm 
Prick'd ftx>m the lazy finger of a maid ; 
Her chariot is an empty hazel-nut. 
Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub, 
Time out o' mind the fairies' coachmakers. 
And in this state she gallops night by night 
Through lovers' brains, and then they dream of love ; 
O'er courtiers' knees, that dream on court'sies straight, 
O'er lawyers' fingers, who straight dream on fees, 
O'er ladies' lips, who straight on kisses dream. . . . 
Sometime she gallops o'er a courtier's nose. 
And then dreams he of smelling out a suit ; 
And sometime comes she with a tithe-pig's tail 
Tickling a parson's nose as a' lies asleep. 
Then dreams he of another benefice : 

' Much ado About Nothing, il 1. 


SometimB she diiretli o'er a soldier'a neck, 
And then dreams he of cutting foreign throats, 
Of breaches, ambuscadoes, Spanish blades, 
Of healths fire-fothom deep ; and then anon 
Drums in his ear, at which he starts aud wakes. 
And being thua irighted swears a prayer or two 
And sleeps again. This is that very Mab 
That plats the manea of horses in the night. 
And bakes the elf-locks in foul sluttish hairs, 
Which once untangled much misfortune bodes. . . . 
This is she " ^ . . . 

Borneo intemipta him, or he would never end. Let 
the reader compare unth the dialogue of the French 
theatre thia little poem, 

" Child of an idle brain, 
B^ot of nothing but vain fantasy," * 

introduced without incongruity in the midst of a con- 
Tetsatiou of the sixteenth century, and he will 
understand the difference between the wit which 
devotes itself to reasoning, or to record a subject for 
laughter, and that imagination which is self-amused 
with its own act 

FftlBtftfT has the passions of an animal, and the 
imagination of a man of wit. There is no character 
which better exemplifies the fire and immorality of 
Sbakspeare. Falstaff is a great supporter of disrepu- 
table places, swearer, gamester, idler, wine-bibber, as 
low as he well can be. He has a big beUy, bloodshot eyes, 
bloated face, shaking legs ; he spends his life with his 
elbows among the tavern-jugs, or asleep on the ground be- 
hind Uie arras; he only wakes to cuise, lie, brag, and steal 
' Somto (uid Jviia, L 4 * Hiid. 

94 THE RENAISSANCE. book il 

He is as big a swindler as Panurge, who had sixty-three 
ways of making money, " of which the honestest was 
by sly theft." And what is worse, he is an old man, 
a knight, a courtier, and well educated. Must he not 
be odious and repulsive? By no means; we cannot 
help liking him. At bottom, like his brother Panurge^ 
he is '' the best fellow in the world." He has no malice 
in his composition ; no other wish than to laugh and be 
amused. When insulted, he bawls out louder than his 
attackers, and pays tliem back with interest in coarse 
words and insults ; but he owes them no grudge for it 
The next minute he is sitting down with them in a 
low tavern, drinking their health like a brother and 
comrade. If he has vices, he exposes them so frankly 
that we are obliged to forgive him them. He seems 
to say to us "Well, so I am, what then? I like 
drinking: isn't the wine good? I take to my heels 
when hard hitting begins; don't blows hurt? I get 
into debt, and do fools out of their money ; isn't it nice 
to have money in your pocket? I brag; isn't it 
natural to want to be well thought of?" — "Dost thou 
hear, Hal? thou knowest, in the state of innocency, 
Adam fell ; and wliat should poor Jack Falstafif do in 
the days of vUlany ? Thou seest I have more flesh than 
another man, and tlierefore more frailty." ^ Falstaff is 
so frankly immoral, that ho ceases to be so. Conscience 
ends at a certain point ; nature assumes its place, and 
man rushes upon what he desires, without more thought 
of being just or unjust than an annual in the neigh- 
bouring wood. Falstaff, engaged in recruiting, has sold 
exemptions to all the rich people, and only enrolled 
starved and half-naked wTetches. There's but a shirt 

^ First Part of King Henry IF,, iii. 8. 


and a half in all his company : that does not trouble 
him. Bah : " theyTl find linen enough on every hei^e." 
The prince, who has seen them, says, " I did never see 
such pitiful rascals." "Tut, tut," answers Falstaff, 
"good enough to toss; food for powder; they'll fill a 
pit as well as better; tush, man, mortal men, mortal 
men." * His second excuse is his unfailing spirit If 
ever there was a man who could jabber, it is he. Insults 
and oaths, curses, jobations, protests, flow from him as 
&om an open barrel. He is never at a loss ; he devises 
a shift for every difficulty. Lies sprout out of him, 
fructify, increase, beget one another, like mushrooms 
on a rich and rotten bed of earth. He lies still more 
from his imagination and nature than from interest 
and necessity. It is evident from the manner in which 
he strains his fictions. He says he has fought alone 
against two men. The next moment it is four. Pre- 
sently we have seven, then eleven, then fourteen. He 
is stopped in time, or he would soon be talking of a 
whole army. When unmasked, he does not lose his 
temper, and is the first to laugh at his boastings. 
" Gallants, lads, boys, hearts of gold. . . . What, shall 
we be merry? shall we have a play extempore?"* 
He does the scolding part of King Henry with so much 
truth, that we might take him for a king, or an actor. 
This big pot-bellied fellow, a coward, a cjTiic, a brawler, 
a drunkard, a lewd rascal, a pothouse poet, is one of 
Shakspeare's favourites. The reason is, that his morals 
are those of pure nature, and Shakspeare's mind is con- 
genial with his own. 

• First Part of Jtitjjr Bcnry IV., U. 2. » Ibid, ii *. 

96 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 


Xaturo is shameless and gross amidst this mass of 
flesh, hea\'y witli wine and fatness. It is delicate in 
the delicate body of women, but as unreasoning cmd 
impassioned in Desdemona as in Falstaflf. Shakspeare's 
women are channing children, who feel in excess and 
love passionately. Tliey have unconstrained manners, 
little rages, nice wonls of friendship, a coquettish 
rebelliousness, a gracefid volubility, which recall the 
warbling and the prettiuess of birds. Tlie heroines of 
the French stage are almost men ; these are women 
and in every sense of the word. More imprudent than 
Desdemona a woman could not Ije. She is moved with 
pity for Cassio, and asks a favour for him passionately, 
recklessly, be the thing just or no, dangerous or no. 
She knows nothing of man's laws, and does not tliink of 
them. All that she sees is, that Cassio is unhappy : — 

** Be thou assured, good Csussio . . . My lord shall never rest ; 
I'll watch him, tame and talk him out of patience ; 
His bed shall seem a school, his board a shrift ; 
1*11 intermingle everything he does 
With Cassio's suit." ^ 

She asks her favour : 

" Othello, Not now, sweet Desdemona ; some other time. 
Desdemona, But shall't be shortly 1 
0, The sooner, sweet, for you. 
Des, Shairt be to-night at supper 1 
0. No, not to-night. 
Dcs, To-morrow dinner, then ? 
0, 1 shall not dine at home ; 
I meet the captains at the citadel. 

1 OtMlo, iii 3. 


Zta. Why, then, to-morrow night ; or Tuesdqr morn ; 
On Tueeday noon, or night ; on Wednesday mom ; 
I prithee, name the time, but let it not 
Exceed three days : in faith, he's penitent." ' 

She 13 somewhat astonished to aee herself refused : she 
scolds Othello. He yields : who would not yield seeing 
a reproach in those lovely stilkiDg eyes ? 0, says she, 
with a pretty pout : 

" This ia not a boon ; 

Tis as I should entreat you wear your gloves, 

Or feed on nourishing dishes, or keep you warm. 

Or sue to you to do peculiar profit 

To your own person." * 
A moment after, when he prays her to leave him alone 
for a while, mark the innocent gaiety, the ready curtsy, 
the playful child's tone : 

" Shall I deny you 1 no : farewell, my lord. . , . 
Emilia, come : Be aa your fancicB teach you j 
Whate'er you be, I am obedient." ' 

This vivacity, this petulance, does not prevent shrinking 
modesty and silent timidity : on the contrary, they 
spring from a common cause, extreme sensibility. She 
who feels much and quickly has more reserve and more 
passion than others.; she breaks out or is silent ; she 
says nothing or everything. Such is this Imogen 
" So tender of rebukes that words are strokes, 
And strokes death to her."* 

Such is Vii^a, the sweet wife of Coriolanus; hw 
heart is not a Soman one ; she is terrified at her 
husband's victories: when Volumnia describes him 

> OlMlo, iii. 3. ■ Ibid. ' Ilrid. * Cymbeline, m. G. 
VOL. U. H 

98 THE HENAISSANCE. book ii. 

stamping on the field of battle, and wiping his bloody 
brow with his hand, she grows pale : 

** His bloody brow ! Jupiter, no blood ! . . . 
Heavens bless my lord from fell Aufidius ! " ^ 

She wishes to forget all that she knows of these dangers ; 
she dare not think of them. When asked if Coriolanus 
does not generally return wounded, she cries, " O, no, no, 
no." She avoids this cruel picture, and yet nurses a 
secret pang at the bottom of her heart She will not 
leave the house : " I'll not over the threshold till my 
lord return."^ She does not smile, will hardly admit a 
visitor ; she would blame herself, as for a lack of tender- 
ness, for a moment's forgetfulness or gaiety. When he 
does return, she can only blush and weep. This exalted 
sensibility must needs end in love. All Shakspeare's 
women love Tvithout measure, and nearly all at first 
sight. At the first look Juliet casts on Bomeo^ she 
says to the nurse : 

" Go, ask his name : if he be married, 
My grave is like to be my wedding bed." • 

It is the revelation of their destiny. As Shakspeare has 
made them, they cannot but love, and they must love 
till death. But this first look is an ecstasy : and this 
sudden approach of love is a transport. Miranda seeing 
Fernando, fancies that she sees " a thing divina" She 
halts motionless, in the amazement of this sudden vision, 
at the sound of these heavenly harmonies which rise 
from the depths of her heart. She weeps, on seeing 
him drag the heavy logs ; with her slender wliite hands 
she woiJd do the work whilst he reposed. Her compas- 
sion and tenderness carry her away ; she is no longer 

^ Coriolanus, i. 3. ' ^ Ibid, ' Borneo arid Juliet, L 5. 


mistress of her words, she says what she would not, 
what her father has forbidden her to disclose, what 
an instant before she would never have confessed. The 
too full heart overflows unwittingly, happy, and ashamed 
at the current of joy and new sensations with which an 
unknown feeling has flooded her : 

'' Mirandci, I am a fool to weep at what I am glad of . . . • 
Fernando. Wherefore weep you 1 
Af. At mine unworthiness that dare not offer 

What I desire to give, and much less take 

What I shall die to want. . . . 

I am your wife, if you will many me ; 

U not, m die your maid." ^ 

This irresistible invasion of love transforms the whole 
character. The shrinking and tender Desdemona, sud- 
denly, in full senate, before her father, renounces her 
fitther ; dreams not for an instant of asking his pardon, 
or consoling him. She wiU leave for Cyprus with 
Othello, through the enemy's fleet and the tempest. 
Everything vanishes before the one and adored image 
which has taken entire and absolute possession of her 
whole heart So, extreme evils, bloody resolves, are only 
the natural sequence of such love. Ophelia becomes 
mad, Juliet commits suicide; no one but looks upon 
such madness and death as necessary. You will not 
then discover virtue in these souls, for by virtue is im- 
plied a determinate desire to do good, and a rational 
observance of duty. They are only pure through 
delicacy or love. They recoil from vice as a gross thing, 
not as an immoral thing. What they feel is not respect 
for the marriage vow, but adoration of their husband. 

1 The Tempest, iil 1. 

100 THE RENAISSANCK book n. 

" O sweetest, fairest lily I " So Cymbeline speaks of one 
of these frail and lovely flowers which cannot be torn 
from the tree to which they have grown, whose least 
impurity would tarnish their whiteness. When Imogen 
learns that her husband means to kill her as being faith- 
less, she does not revolt at the outrage ; she has no pride, 
but only love. " False to his bed ! " She faints at the 
thought that she is no longer loved. When Cordelia 
hears her father, an irritable old man, already almost 
insane, ask her how she loves him, she cannot make 
up her mind to say aloud the flattering protestations 
which her sisters have been lavishing. She is ashamed 
to display her tenderness before the world, and to buy 
a dowry by it. He disinlierits her, and drives her away ; 
she holds her tongue. And when she afterwards finds 
him abandoned and mad, she goes on her knees before 
him, with such a touching emotion, she weeps over that 
dear insulted head with so gentle a pity, that you might 
fancy it was the tender voice of a desolate but delighted 
mother, kissing the pale lips of her cliild : 

" you kind gods, 
Cure this great breach in his abused nature ! 
The untuned and jarring senses, 0, wind up 
Of this child-changed father ! . . . 
my dear father ! Restoration hang 
Thy medicine on my lips ; and let this kiss 
Repair those violent harms that my two sisters 
Have in thy reverence made ! . . . Was this a fiwje 
To be opposed against the warring winds 1 

. . . Mine enemy's dog, 
Though he had bit mo, should have stood that night 
Against my fire. . . . 
How does my royal lord ? How fares your miy'esty ? "* 

^ Ki)ig Lear, iv. 7. 


If, in short, Shakspeare comes across a heroic char- 
acter, worthy of Comeille, a Eoman, such as the mother 
of Coriolanus, he will explain by passion, what 
Comeille would have explained by heroism. He will 
depict it violent and thirsting for the violent feelings 
of glory. She will not be able to refrain herself. She 
will break out into accents of triumph when she sees 
her son crowned; into imprecations of vengeance 
when she sees him banished. She wiU descend to the 
vtdgarities of pride and anger ; she will abandon herself 
to mad effusions of joy, to dreams of an ambitious 
fancy,^ and wiU prove once more that the impassioned 
imagination of Shakspeare has left its trace in all the 
creatures whom it has called forth. 


Nothing is easier to such a poet than to create per- 
fect villains. Throughout he is handling the unruly 
passions which make their character, and he never hits 
upon the moral law which restrains them ; but at the 
same time, and by the same faculty, he changes the inani- 
mate masks, which the conventions of the stage mould 
on an identical pattern, into living and illusory figures. 

* ** ye're well met : the hoarded plague o' the gods 

Requite your love ! 

If that I conld' for weeping, you should hear — 

Kay, and you shall hear some. . . . 

I'll tell thee what ; yet go : 

Kay but thou shalt stay too : I would my son 

Were in Arabia, and thy tribe before him, 

His good sword in his hand." — Coriolanua, iv. 2. 
See again, CoriolawuSy L 8, the frank and abandoned triumph of a woman 
of the people ; " I sprang not more in joy at first hearing he was a man- 
child than now in %X2X seeing he had proved himself a man." 

102 THE RENAISSANCK book el 

How shall a demon be made to look as real as a man ? 
lago is a soldier of fortune who has roved the world 
from Syria to England, who, nursed in the lowest ranks, 
having had close acquaintance with the horrors of the 
wars of the sixteenth century, had drawn thence the 
maxims of a Turk and the philosophy of a butcher; 
principles he has none left " my reputation, my re- 
putation !" cries the dishonoured Cassio. ^As I am an 
honest man," says lago, "I thought you had received 
some bodily wound; there is more sense in that than in 
reputation."^ As for woman's virtue, he looks upon it 
like a man who has kept company with slave-dealers. 
He estimates Desdemona's love as he would estimate a 
mare's : that sort of thing lasts so long — then . . • 
And then he airs an experimental theory with precise 
details and nasty expressions like a stud doctor. " It 
cannot be that Desdemona should long continue her 
love to the Moor, nor he his to her. . . . These Moors 
are changeable in their wills; . . . the food that to 
him now is as luscious as locusts, shall be to him 
shortly as bitter as coloquintida. She must change for 
youth : when she is sated with his body, she will find 
the error of her choice." ^ Desdemona on the shore, 
trying to forget her cares, begs him to sing the praises 
of her sex. For every portrait he finds the most insult- 
ing insinuations. She insists, and bids him take the 
case of a deserving woman. "Indeed" he replies, "She 
was a wight, if ever such wight were, ... to suckle 
fools and chronicle small beer." ^ He also says, when 
Desdemona asks him what he would write in praise of 
her : " gentle lady do not put me to't ; for I am 
nothing, if not critical." * This is the key to his char- 

* Othello, ii 8. « Ibid. I 8. » Ibid, ii 1. * Ibid, 


acter. He despises man ; to him Desdemona is a little 
wanton wench, Cassio an elegant word-shaper, Othello 
a mad bull, Soderigo an ass to be basted, thumped, 
made to go. He diverts himself by setting these 
passions at issue ; he laughs at it as at a play. When 
Othello, swooning, shakes in his convulsions, he rejoices 
at this capital result : " Work on, my medicine, work ! 
Thus credulous fools are caught." ^ You would take him 
for one of the poisoners of the time, studying the effect 
of a new potion on a dying dog. He only speaks in 
sarcasms : he has them ready for every one, even for 
those whom he does not know. When he wakes Bra- 
bantio to inform him of the elopement of his daughter, 
he tells him the matter in coarse terms, sharpening the 
sting of the bitter pleasantry, like a conscientious execu- 
tioner, rubbing his hands when he hears the culprit 
groan under the knife. "Thou art a villain!" cries 
Brabantio. " You are — a senator ! " answers lago. 
But the feature which reaUy completes him, and makes 
him take rank with Mephistopheles, is the atrocious 
truth and the cogent reasoning by which he likens his 
crime to virtue.^ Cassio, imder his advice, goes to see 
Desdemona, to obtain her intercession for him ; this 
visit is to be the ruin of Desdemona and Cassio. lago, 
left alone, hums for an instant quietly, then cries : 

** And what's he then that says I play the yillain % 
When this advice is free I give and honest, 
Probal to thinking and indeed the course 
To win the Moor again.*' * 

» OOuUo, iv. 1. 

* See the Uke cynicism and scepticism in Richard III. Both begin 
liy slandering human nature, and both are misanthropical of malice 

« OthOlo, il 8. 

104 THE RENAISSANCK book n. 

To all these features must be added a diabolical eneigy,^ 
an inexhaustible inventiveness in images, caricatures, 
obscenity, the manners of a guard-room, the brutal 
bearing and tastes of a trooper, habits of dissimulation, 
coolness, hatred, and patience, contracted amid the 
perils and devices of a military life, and the continu- 
ous miseries of long degradation and frustrated hope ; 
you will understand how Shakspeare could transform 
abstract treachery into a concrete form, and how lago's 
atrocious vengeance is only the natural consequence of 
his character. Life, and training. 


How much more visible is tliis impassioned and im- 
fettered genius of Shakspeare in the great characters 
which sustain the whole weight of the drama ! The 
startling imagination, the furious velocity of the mani- 
fold and exuberant ideas, passion let loose, rushing 
upon death and crime, hallucinations, madness, all the 
ravages of delirium bursting through will and reason : 
such are the forces and ravings which engender them. 
Shall I speak of dazzling Cleopatra, who holds 
Antony in the whirlwind of her devices and caprices, 
who fascinates and kills, who scatters to the winds the 
lives of men as a handful of desert dust, the fatal 
Eastern sorceress who sports with love and death, im- 
petuous, irresistible, child of air and tire, whose life is 
but a tempest, whose thought, ever barbed and broken, 
is like the crackling of a lightning flash ? Of Othello, 
who, beset by the graphic picture of physical adultery, 
cries at every word of lago like a man on the rack ; 

1 S€6 his conversation with Brabantio, then with Roderigo, Act L 


who, his nerves hardened by twenty years of war and 
shipwreck, grows mad and swoons for grief, and whose 
soul, poisoned by jealousy, is distracted and disorganised 
in convulsions and in stupor ? Or of old King Lear, 
violent and weak, whose half-unseated reason is 
gradually toppled over under the shocks of incredible 
treacheries, who presents the frightful spectacle of mad- 
ness, first increasing, then complete, of curses, bowlings, 
superhuman sorrows, into which the transport of the 
first access of fury carries him, and then of peaceful 
incoherence, chattering imbecility, into which the shat- 
tered man subsides ; a marvellous creation, the supreme 
effort of pure imagination, a disease of reason, which 
reason could never have conceived ? ^ Amid so many 
portraitures let us choose two or three to indicate the 
depth and nature of them all. The critic is lost in 
Shakspeare, as in an immense town ; he will describe 
a couple of monuments, and entreat the reader to im- 
agine the city. 

Plutarch's Coriolanus is an austere, coldly haughty 
patrician, a general of the army. In Shakspeare's 
hands he becomes a coarse soldier, a man of the people 
as to his language and manners, an athlete of war, with 
a voice like a trumpet ; whose eyes by contradiction 
are filled with a rush of blood and anger, proud and 
terrible in mood, a lion's soul in the body of a bidl. 
The philosopher Plutarch told of him a lofty philosophic 
action, saying that he had been at pains to save his 
landlord in the sack of Corioli. Shakspeare's Corio- 
lanus has indeed the same disposition, for he is really 
a good fellow ; but when Lartius asks him the name 

^ See again, in Timon, and Hotspur more particularly, perfect 
examples of rehement and unreasoning imagination. 

106 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

of this poor Volscian, in order to secure his Kberty, he 

yawns out : 

" By Jupiter ! forgot 
I am weary ; yea, my memory is tired. 
Have we no wine here 1 " ^ 

He is hot, he has been fighting, he must drink ; he 
leaves his Volscian in chains, and thinks no more of 
him. He fights like a porter, with shouts and insults, 
and the cries from that deep chest are heard above the 
din of the battle like the sounds from a brazen trumpet 
He has scaled the walls of Corioli, he has butchered 
tiU he is gorged with slaughter. Instantly he turns 
to the army of Cominius, and arrives red with blood, 
" as he were flay'd." " Come I too late ? " Cominius 
begins to compliment him. " Come I too late ? " he 
repeats. The battle is not yet finished : he embraces 
Cominius : 

" ! let me clip ye 
In arms as sound as when I woo'd, in heart 
As merry as when our nuptial day was done." * 

For the battle is a real holiday to him. Such senses, 
such a strong frame, need the outcry, the din of battle, 
the excitement of death and wounds. This haughty 
and indomitable heart needs the joy of victory and 
destruction. Mark the display of his patrician arro- 
gance and his soldier's bearing, when he is offered the 
tenth of the spoils : 

" I thank you, general ; 
But cannot make my heart consent to take 
A bribe to pay my sword." ' 

1 Coriolanus, I 9. « Ibid. I 6. » Ibid. i. 9. 


The soldiers cry, Marcius ! Marcius ! and the trumpets 
sound. He gets into a passsion : rates the brawlers : 

" No more, I say ! For that I have not wash'd 
My nose that bled, or foil'd some debile wretch, — 
. . . You shout me forth 
In acclamations hyperbolical ; 
As if I loved my little should be dieted 
In pndses sauced with lies." ^ 

They are reduced to loading him with honours : Comi- 
nius giveslhim a war-horse ; decrees him the cognomen 
of Coriolanus : the people shout Caius Marcius Corio- 
lanus ! He replies : 

" I will go wash ; 
And when my face is fair, you shall perceive 
Whether I blush or no : howbeit, I thank you. 
I mean to stride your steed." ^ 

This loud voice, loud laughter, blunt acknowledgment, 
of a man who can act and shout better than speak, 
foretell the mode in which he will treat the plebeians. 
He loads them with insults; he cannot find abuse 
enough for the cobblers, tailors, envious cowards, down 
on their knees for a coin. " To beg of Hob and Dick ! " 
" Bid them wash their faces and keep their teeth clean." 
But he must beg, if he would be consul ; his friends 
constrain him. It is then that the passionate soul, 
incapable of self-restraint, such as Shakspeare knew 
how to paint, breaks forth without hindrance. He is 
there in his candidate's gown, gnashing his teeth, and 
getting up his lesson in this style : 

^ Coriolanw, I 9. * Ibid, 

108 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

'' What roust I say t 
* I pray, sir ' — Plague upon't ! I cannot bring 
My tongue to such a pace : — * Look, sir, my wounds ! 
I got them in my countr/s service, when 
Some certain of your brethren roar'd and ran 
From the noise of our own drums.' " ^ 

The tribunes have no difficulty in stopping the election 
of a candidate who begs in this fashion. They taunt 
him in full senate, reproach him with his speech about the 
com. He repeats it, with aggravations. Once roused, 
neither danger nor prayer restrains him : 

*^ His heart's his mouth : 
And, being angry, 'does forget that ever 
He heard the name of death." ^ 

He rails against the people, the tribunes, ediles, flat- 
terers of the plebs. "Come, enough," says his friend 
Menenius. " Enough, with over-measure," says Brutus 
the tribune. He retorts : 

" No, take more : 
What may be sworn by, both divine and human, 
Seal what I end withal ! ... At once pluck out 
The multitudinous tongue ; let them not lick 
The sweet which is their poison." • 

The tribune cries. Treason ! and bids seize him. He cries : 

" Hence, old goat ! . . . 
Hence, rotten thing ! or I shall shake thy bones 
Out of thy garments ! " * 

He strikes him, drives the mob off: he fancies himself 
amongst Volscians. " On fair ground I could beat 
forty of them ! " And when his friends hurry him off, 
he threatens still, and 

1 Coriolanua, iL 3. « Ibid, m. 1. » Jbid, * Ibid. 


" Speak(8) o' the people, 
As if you (he) were a god to punish, not 
A man of their infirmity." ^ 

Yet he bends before his mother, for he has recognised 
in her a soul as lofty and a courage as intractable as 
his own. He has submitted from his infancy to the 
ascendency of this pride which he admires. Volumnia 
reminds him : " My praises made thee first a soldier." 
Without power over himself, continually tost on the 
fire of his too hot blood, he has always been the arm, 
she the thought. He obeys from involuntary respect, 
like a soldier before his general, but with what effort ! 

" Coriolanus. The smiles of knaves 
Tent in my cheeks, and schoolboys' tears take up 
The glances of my sight ! a beggar's tongue 
Make motion through my lips, and my arm'd knees 
Who boVd but in my stirrup, bend like his 
That hath received an alms ! — I will not do't. . . . 

Volumnia, ... Do as thou hst. 

Thy valiantness was mine, thou suck'dst it from me, 
But owe thy pride thyself. 

Cor, Pray, be content : 
Mother, I am going to the market-place ; 
Chide me no more. Ill mountebank their loves. 
Cog their hearts from them, and come home beloved 
Of all the trades ia Rome." ^ 

He goes, and his friends speak for him. Except a few 
bitter asides, he appears to be submissive. Then the 
tribunes pronounce the accusation, and summon him to 
answer as a traitor : 

^ OoriolanuSt'm. 1. ' Ibid, iiL 2. 

110 THE RENAISSANCE. bookil 

''Cor. How! traitor! 
Men. Nay, temperately : your promijse. 
Cot. The fires i' the lowest hell fold-in the people ! 
Call me their traitor ! Thou injurious tribune ! 
Within thine eyes sat twenty thousand deaths, 
In thy hands clutch'd as many millions, in 
Thy lying tongue both numbers, I would say, 
' Thou liest,' unto thee with a voice as free 
As I do pray the gods." ^ 

His friends surround him, entreat him: he will not 
listen ; he foams at the mouth, he is like a wounded 

'' Let them pronounce the steep Tarpeian death, 
Vagabond exile, flaying, pent to linger 
But with a grain a day, I would not buy 
Their mercy at the price of one fidr word." * 

The people vote exile, supporting by their shouts the 
sentence of the tribune : 

'' Cot. You common cry of curs ! whose breath I hate 

As reek o' the rotten fens, whose love I prize 

As the dead carcasses of unburied men 

That do corrupt my air, I banish you. . . . Despising, 

For you, the city, thus I turn my back : 

There is a world elsewhere." ' 

Judge of his hatred by these raging words. It goes on 
increasing whilst waiting for vengeance. We find him 
next with the Volscian army before Home. His friends 
kneel before him, he lets them kneel. Old Menenius, 
who had loved him as a son, only comes now to be 
driven away. " Wife, mother, child, I know not" * 

1 Coriolanus, iii. 8. « Ilnd. » Ibid. * Ilrid. y. 2. 


He knows not himself. For tMa strength of hating in 
a noble heart is the same as the force of loving. He 
haa transports of tenderness as of r^e, and can contain 
himself no more in joy than in grief. He runs, spite 
of his resolution, to his wife's arms ; he bends his Imee 
before his mother. He had summoned the Volscian 
chiefs to make them witnesses of his refusals ; and 
before them, he grants all, and weeps. On his return 
to Corioh, an insulting word from Aufidius maddens 
him, and drives him upon the da^ers of the Volscians. 
Vices and virtues, glory and misery, greatness and 
feebleness, the unbridled passion which composes his 
nature, endowed him with all. 

If the life of Coriolanus is the history of a mood, 
that of Macbeth iB the histoiy of a monomania. The 
witches' prophecy haa sunk into his mind at once, like 
a fixed idea. Gradually this idea corrupts the rest, and 
transforms the whole man. He is haunted by it ; he for- 
gets the thanes who surround him and "who stay upon his 
leisure ; " he already sees in the future an indistinct 
chaos of im^es of blood : 

..." Why do I yield to that euggestiou 

Whoee horrid image doth unfix my hair 

And make my seated heart knock at my ribs ! . . . 

My thou^t, whose murder yet is but tantastical. 

Shakes so my single state of man that fduction 

Is smothet'd in Burmise, and nothing ia 

But what is not." ^ 
This is the language of hallucination. Macbeth's halluci- 
nation becomes complete when his wife has persuaded 
him to aasasainate the king. He sees in the air a 
blood-^tAined di^er, " in form as palpable, as this 
> Maatth,l 3. 

1 1 2 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

which now I draw." His whole brain is filled with 
grand and terrible phantoms, which the mind of a 
common murderer could never have conceived: the 
poetry of which indicates a generous heart, enslaved to 
an idea of fate, and capable of remorse : 

..." Now o'er the one half world 
Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse 
The curtain'd sleep ; witchcraft celebrates 
Pale Hecate's offerings, and withered murder, 
Alarum'd by his sentinel, the wolf. 
Whose howl's his watch, thus with his stealthy pace, 
With Tarquin's ravishing strides, towards his design 
Moves like a ghost. ... (A heU rings.) 

I go, and it Ib done ; the bell invites me. 
Hear it not, Duncan ; for it is a knell 
That summons thee to heaven or to heU." ^ 

He has done the deed, and returns tottering, haggard^ 
like a drunken man. He is horrified at his bloody 
hands, "these hangman's hands." Nothing now can 
cleanse them. The whole ocean might sweep over them, 
but they would keep the hue of murder. " What hands 
are here ? ha, they pluck out mine eyes !" He is dis- 
turbed by a word which the sleeping chamberlains 
uttered : 

" One cried, * God bless us !' and * Amen * the other ; 
As they had seen mc with these hangman's hands. 
Listening their fear, I could not say * Amen,' 
When they did say, * Grod bless us ! ' . . , 
But wherefore could not I pronounce * Amen ! ' 
I had most need of blessing, and * Amen ' 
Stuck in my throat." ' 

^ Madfeth, ii. 1. « Ibid, ii 2. 


Then comee a strange dream ; a fiightful vision of the 
punishment that awaita ^iti descends upon >iitn 

Above the beating of his heart, the tingling of the 
blood ^hich seethes in Ms brain, be had beard them 

" ' Sleep no more ! 
Macbeth does murder Bleep,' the ianocent sleep, 
Sleep that knits up the ravell'd slesve of care, 
The death of each day's life, sore labour's bath, 
Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course. 
Chief nourisher in life's feast." ^ 

And the voice, like an angel's trumpet, calla him by 
all his titles : 

'"QIamis hath muidet'd sleep, and therefore Cawdor 
Shall sleep no more ; Uacbeth shall sleep no more ! ' " ^ 

This idea, incessantly repeated, beats in his brain, with 
monotonous and quick strokes, like the tongue of a beU. 
Insanity begins ; all the force of his mind is occupied 
by keeping before him, in spite of himself, the image 
of the man whom he has murdered in his sleep : 

" To know my deed, 'twere best not know myself. (Knock.) 
Wake Duncan with thy knocking ! I would thou couldst ! " * 

Thenceforth, in the rare intervals in which the fever of 
his mind is assuaged, he is like '& man worn out by a 
lot^ malady. It is the sad prostration of maniacs worn 
out by their fits of rage : 

" Had I but died an hour before this chance, 
I bad lived a blessed time ; for, from tida instant 
There's nothing serious in mortality : 
' Itaditth, ii. !. > Ibid. * Ibid. ii. 3. 

114 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

All IB but toys : renown and grace is dead ; 
The wine of life is drawn, and the mere leea 
Is left this yaolt to brag of." ^ 

When rest has restored some force to the human machine^ 
the fixed idea shakes him again, and drives him onward^ 
like a pitiless horseman, who has left his panting horse 
only for a moment, to leap again into the saddle, and 
spur him over precipices. The more he has done, the 

more he must do : 

'' I am in blood 
Stepp'd in so far that, should I wade no more, 
Ketuming were as tedious as go o'er." ^ . . . 

He kills in order to preserve the fhiit of his murders. 
The fatal circlet of gold attracts him like a magic jewel ; 
and he beats down, from a sort of blind instinct, the 
heads which he sees between the crown and him : 

" But let the frame of things disjoint, both the worlds snfier. 
Ere we will eat our meal in fear and sleep 
In the affliction of these terrible dreams 
That shake us nightly : better be with the dead, 
Whom we, to gain our peace, have sent to peace, 
Than on the torture of the mind to lie 
In restless ecstasy. Duncan is in his grave ; 
After life's fitful fever he sleeps well ; 
Treason has done his worst : nor steel, nor poison, 
Malice domestic, foreign levy, nothing, 
Can touch him fiuther." ^ 

Macbeth has ordered Banquo to be murdered, and 
in the midst of a great feast he is informed of the 
success of his plan. He smiles, and proposes Banquo's 

1 Macbeth, ii. 3. « Ibid. iii. 4. » Ibid. UL 2. 


healtlL Suddenly, conscience-smitten, he sees the 
ghost of the murdered man ; for this phantom, which 
Shakspeare sommous, is not a mere stage-trick: we 
feel that here the snpematuial is unnecessary, and that 
Macbeth would create it, even if hell would not send 
it. With muscles twitching, dilated eyes, his month 
half open with deadly terror, he sees it shake its bloody 
head, and cries with that hoarse voice which is only to 
be heard in majiiacs' cells : 

" Fritliee, see there 1 Behold I look I lo ! how gay you I 
Why, what caie II If thou canst Dod, speak too. 
If chaniel-houBefl and onr graves must send 
Thoee that ve bniy back, onr monumenta 
ShaU be the mawa of kites. . . . 
Blood hath been shed ere now, i' the olden time, . . . 
Ay, and aince too, murders have been perform'd 
Too terrible for the ear : the timee have been, 
That, when the brains were out, the man would die, 
And there an end ; but now they riae agtun, 
With twenty mortal murders on their crowns, 
And posh as from our stools : . , . 
Avaont ! and quit my eight 1 let the earth hide thee ! 
Thy bones are imuTowlees, thy blood is cold ; 
ThoQ hast no speculation in those eyes 
Which thou dost glare with I " ' 

Hifl body trembling like that of an epileptic, his teeth 
denohed, foaming at the mouth, he sinks on the ground, 
bis limbs writhe, shaken with convulsive quiverings, 
whilst a dull sob swells h^ panting breast, and dies in 
his swollen throat What joy can remain for a man 
beset by such visions T The wide dark countTy, which 
he surveys &om his towering castle, is but a fidd of 

■ Madith, iif. 4. 

1 1 6 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

death, haunted by ominous apparitions; Sootknd^ 
which he is depopulating, a cemetery, 

" Where ... the dead man's knell 
Is there scarce ask'd for who ; and good men's lives 
Expire before the flowers in their caps, 
Dying or ere they sicken." ^ 

His soul is " full of scorpions." He has " supp'd full 
with horrors," and the loathsome odour of blood has 
disgusted him with all else. He goes stumbling over 
the corpses which he has heaped up, with the mechani- 
cal and desperate smile of a maniac-murderer. Thence- 
forth death, life, all is one to him ; the habit of muider 
has placed him out of the pale of humanity. They 
tell him that his wife is dead : 

" Macbeth. She should have died hereafter ; 
There would have been a time for such a word. 
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, 
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day 
To the last syllable of recorded time. 
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools 
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle ! 
Life's but a walking shadow ; a poor player 
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, 
And then is heard no more : it is a tale 
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury. 
Signifying nothing." ' 

There remains for him the hardening of the heart in 
crime, the fixed belief in destiny. Himted down by 
his enemies, "bear-like, tied to a stake," he fights, 
troubled only by the prediction of the witches, sure of 
being invulnerable so long as the man whom they have 

1 Macbeth, iv. 3. « Ibid. v. 6. 


described, does not appear. Henceforth Mb thoughts 
dwell in a supematuial world, and to the last he walks 
with his eyea fixed on the dieam, which has possessed 
him, from the first 

The history of Hamlet, like that of Macbeth, is a 
stoiy of moral poisoning. Hamlet has a delicate soul, 
an impassioned imagination, like that of Shakspeare. 
He has lived hitherto, occupied in noble ^ studies, 
akiliul in mental and bodily exercises, with a taste for 
art, loved by the noblest lather, enamoured of the 
purest and most diarming girl, confiding, generous, 
not yet having perceived, from the he^ht of the throne 
to which he was bom, aught but the beauty, happiness, 
grandeur of nature and humanity.^ On this soul, which 
charact^ and training make more sensitive than others, 
misfortune suddenly falls, extreme, overwhelming, of 
the very kind to destroy all faith and eveiy motive for 
action : with one glance he has seen all the vileness 
of homanity; and this insight is given him in his 
mother. His mind is- yet intact ; bnt judge from the 
violence of his style, the crudity of his exact details, 
die terrible tension of the whole nervous machine, 
whether he has not already one foot on the verge of 

"0 that this too, hw solid fleeh would melt, 
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew ! 
Or that the Bverlastii^ had not fix'd 
His canon 'gunst self-slaughter ! O God ! Ckid r 
How vtMj, stale, flat and unprofitable, 
Seem to me all the uses of this world ! 
fie on't ! ah fie .' 'tis an unweeded garden, 
That grows to seed ; things rank and gross in nat 
' aoeth^ JFiUulm XtiOtr. 

118 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

PoBseBS it merely. That it should come to this ! 
But two months dead : nay, not so much, not two : 
So excellent a king, ... so loving to my mother 
That he might not let e'en the winds of heaven 
Visit her ieuoe too roughly. Heaven and earth ! 

. . . And yety within a month, — 
Let me not think on't — Frailty, thy name is woman 1 — 
A little month, or ere those shoes were old 
With which she follow'd my poor Other's body, . . . 
Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears 
Had left the flushing in her galled eyes. 
She married. 0, most wicked speed, to post 
With such dexterity to incestuous sheets 1 
It is not nor it cannot come to good ! 
But break, my heart ; for I must hold my tongue 1 " ^ 

Here already are contortions of thought, a beginning 
of hallucination, the symptozos of what is to come after. 
In the middle of conversation the image of his father 
rises before his mind. He thinks he sees him. How 
then will it be when the " canonised bones have burst 
their cerements," " the sepulchre hath oped his ponder- 
ous and marble jaws/' and when the ghost comes in 
the night, upon a high "platform" of land, to tell 
him of the tortures of his prison of fire, and of the 
fratricide, who has driven him thither ? Hamlet grows 
faint, but grief strengthens him, and he has a desire for 
living : 

" Hold, hold, my heart ; 
And you my sinews, grow not instant old. 
But bear me stiffly up ! Remember thee ! 
Ay, thou poor ghost, while memory holds a seat 
In this distracted globe. — Remember thee 1 


Yea, from the table of 1117 memoiy 

ni wipe aw^ all trivial food lecorda, 

All nwB of boob^ all fomu, all pressom paat, . . . 

And thy commandniept all alone shall lire. . . . 

Tillain, Tillun, Biniliiig, damDcd villain 1 

U7 tables, — meet it is I set it down, 

That one may smile, and smile, and be a vilhun ; 

At least Fm mire it may be so in Denmark : 

So, nude, thew yon are." * (wHUng.) 

Thia convijflive outt)iir3t^ Uiis fevered writing hand, 
this frenzy of intentness, prelude the approach of a kind 
of monomania. When hia iriends come up, he treats 
them vith the speeches of a child or an idiot. He is 
no longer master of bis words ; hollow phrases whirl 
in his brain, and feU from hia mouth as in a dream. 
They call bim ; he answers by imitating the cry of a 
sportsman whistling to his falcon : " Hillo, ho, ho, hoy ! 
come, linrd, come." Whilst he is in the act of swearing 
tiiem to secrecy, the ghost below repeats " Swear." 
Hamlet cries, with a nervous excitement and a fitful 

" Ah ha, boy I aay'st thou so 1 art thou there, truepenny I 
Come on — you hear thb fellow in the cellarage, — 
Consent to swear. . . ' . 

Ohat {bauaA). Swear. 

BattUet. Sie tt uHque f then well shift our ground. 
Come hither, gentlemen. . . . Swear by my sword. 

Ghoft (btntoA). Swear. 

fiimi. Well said, old mole 1 canst work i' the earth so fest t 
A worthy pionec 1 " ' 

Understand that as he says this his teeth chatter, 
■ Samltt, L 5. ■ Ibid. 

120 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

"pale as his shirt, his knees knocking eadi other." 
Intense anguish ends with a kind of laughter, which is 
nothing else than a spasm. Thenceforth Hamlet speaks 
as though he had a continuous nervous attack. His mad- 
ness is feigned, I admit ; but his mind, as a door whose 
hinges are twisted, swings and bangs with every wind 
with a mad haste and with a discordant noise. ' He 
has no need to search fot the strange ideas, apparent 
incoherencies, exaggerations, the deluge of sarcasms 
which he accumulates. He finds them within him ; 
he does himself no violence, he simply gives himself 
up to himself. When he has the piece played which is 
to unmask his uncle, he raises himself, lounges on the 
floor, lays his head in Ophelia's lap ; he addresses the 
actors, and comments on the piece to the spectators ; 
his nerves are strung, his excited thought is like a sur- 
ging and crackling flame, and cannot find fuel enough in 
the multitude of objects surrounding it, upon all of which 
it seizes. When the king rises immasked and troubled, 
Hamlet sings, and says, " Would not this, sir, and a 
forest of feathers — if the rest of my fortunes turn 
Turk with me — ^with two Provincial roses on my razed 
shoes, get me a fellowship in a cry of players, sir !"^ 
And he laughs terribly, for he is resolved on murder. 
It is clear that this state is a disease, and that the man 
will not survive it 

In a soul so ardent of thought, and so mighty of 
feeling, what is left but disgust and despair? We 
tinge all nature with the colour of our thoughts ; we 
shape the world according to our own ideas ; when our 
soul is sick, we see nothing but sickness in the universe : 

* Hamlctj in. 2. 


" This goodly firama, the earth, eeetiu to ma a sterile pro- 
montoiy, this moat excellent canopy, the air, look you, this bntve 
Overhanging finnament, tills nuyestical loof &ett«d with goldoi 
fire, why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent 
congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is a man ! hoir 
noble in leason I hov infinite in fitcul^ I in fonn and moving 
how express and admirable 1 in action how like an angel I in 
apprehension how like a god I the beauty of the world ! the 
paragon of "■''""■I* 1 And yet, to me, what is this quinteraence 
oS dnstl man delif^ts not me : no, nor woman neither." ^ 

Henceforth his thought sullies whatever it touches. 
He tails bitterly hefore Ophelia against marriage and 
love. Beauty ! Innocence ! Beauty is but a means of 
prostituting innocence : " Get thee to a nunnery : why 
wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners 1 . . . What 
should such fellows as I do crawling between earth and 
heaven 7 We are arrant knaves, all ; believe none of 

Whan he has killed Polonius by accident, he hardly 
repents it; it is oile fool less. He jeers li^b- 

" King. Now HuBlet, where's Polonius t 
HamUt. At supper. 
K. At supper I where t 

if. Not where he eats, but where he is eaten : a certain 
etmvocation of politic worms are e'en at him."° 

And he repeats in five or six fashions these gravedigger 
jests. His thoughts already inhabit a churchyard ; to 
this hopeless philosophy a genuine man is a corpse. 
Public functions, honours, passions, pleasures, projects, 
sdence, all this is bat a borrowed mask, which death 

■ HavtUt, iL 2. > ndd. iii 1. ■ Hid. iv. 3. 

122 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

removes, so that people may see what we are, an evil- 
smelling and grinning skulL It is this sight he goes 
to see by Ophelia's grave. He counts the skulls which 
the gravedigger turns up ; this was a lawyer^s, that a 
courtier^s. What bows, intrigues, pretensions, arro- 
gance! And here now is a clown knocking it about with 
his spade, and playing " at loggats with *em." Caesar 
and Alexander have turned to clay and make the earth 
fat ; the masters of the world have served to " patch a 
walL" " Now get you to my lady's chamber, and teU 
her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must 
come; make her laugh at that."^ When a man has 
come to this, there is nothing left but to di& 

This heated imagination, which explains Hamlet's 
nervous disease and his moral poisoning, explains also 
his conduct. If he hesitates to kill his uncle, it is not 
from horror of blood or from our modem scruples. He 
belongs to the sixteenth century. On board ship he 
wrote the order to behead Bosencrantz and Guildenstem, 
and to do so without giving them " shriving-time." 
He killed Polonius, he caused Ophelia's death, and has 
no great remorse for it If for once he spared his uncle, 
it was because he found him praying, and was afraid of 
sending him to heaven. He thought he was killing 
him, when he killed Polonius. What his imagination 
robs him of, is the coolness and strength to go quietly 
and with premeditation to plunge a sword into a 
breast. He can only do the thing on a sudden sug- 
gestion ; he must have a moment of enthusiasm ; he 
must think the king is behind the arras, or else, seeing 
that he himself is poisoned, he must find his victim 
under his foil's point. He is not master of his acts ; 

^ Hamlet, y. 1. 


opportunity dictates tliem; he cannot plan a murder, but 
must improvise it A too lively imagination exhausts 
the will, by the strength of images which it heaps up, 
and by the fury of intentness which absorbs it. You 
recognise in him a poet's soul, made not to act, but to 
dream, which is lost in contemplating the phantoms of 
its creation, which sees the imaginary wld too clearly 
to play a part in the real world ; an artist whom evil 
chance has made a prince, whom worse chance has made 
an avenger of crime, and who, destined by nature for 
genius, is condemned by fortune to madness and 
unhappiness. Hamlet is Shakspeare, and, at the close 
of this gallery of portraits which have all some features 
of his own, Shakspeare has painted himself in the most 
striking of alL 

If Bacine or Comeille had framed a psychology, they 
would have said, with Descartes: Man is an incor- 
poreal soul, served by organs, endowed with reason and 
will, dwelling in palaces or porticos, made for conversa- 
tion and society, whose harmonious and ideal action is 
developed by discourse and replies, in a world con- 
structed by logic beyond the realms of time and placa 

If Shakspeare had framed a psychology, he would 
have said, with Esquirol :^ Man is a nervous machine, 
governed by a mood, disposed to hallucinations, csuried 
away by unbridled passions, essentially unreasoning, a 
mixture of animal and poet, having instead of mind 
rapture, instead of virtue sensibility, imagination for 
prompter and guide, and led at random, by the most 
determinate and complex circumstances, to sorrow, 
crime, madness, and deatL 

^ A French physician (1772-1844), celebrated for his eudeayours to 
improTe the treatment of the insane. — Tk. 

124 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 


Could sncli a poet always confine himself to the 
imitation of nature ? Will this poetical world which 
is going on in his brain, never break loose from the 
laws of the world of reality? Is he not powerful 
enough to follow his own laws ? He is ; and the poetry 
of Shakspeare naturally finds an outlet in the fantasti- 
cal This is the highest grade of imreasoning and 
creative imagination. Despising ordinary logic, it 
creates another; it unites facts and ideas in a new 
order, apparently absurd, in reality regular; it lays 
open the land of dreams, and its dreams seem to us 
the truth. 

When we enter upon Shakspeare's comedies, and even 
his half-dramas,^ it is as though we met him on the 
threshold, like an actor to whom the prologue is com- 
mitted, to prevent misunderstanding on the part of the 
public, and to tell them : " Do not take too seriously 
what you are about to hear: I am amusing myself. 
My brain, being full of fancies, desired to array them, 
and here they are. Palaces, distant landscapes, trans- 
parent clouds which blot in the morning the horizon 
with their grey mists, the red and glorious flames into 
which the evening sun descends, white cloisters in 
endless vista through the ambient air, grottos, cottages, 
the fantastic pageant of all human passions, the irregular 
sport of unlooked-for adventures, — this is the medley 
of forms, colours, sentiments, which I let become en- 
tangled and confused in my presence, a many-tinted 
skein of glistening silks, a slender arabesque, whose 

* Twelfth Night, As you Like it, Tempest^ Winter's Tale^ etc, 
CymbdiiUf Merchant of Venice, etc. 


sinuous curves, crossing and mingled, bewilder the 
mind by the whimsical variety of their injSnite complica- 
tions. Don't regard it as a picture. Don't look for a 
precise composition, a sole and increasing interest, the 
skilful management of a weU-ordered and congruous plot. 
I have tales and novels before me which I am cutting 
up into scenes. Never mind thejinis, I am amusing 
myself on the road. It is not the end of the journey 
which pleases me, but the journey itself. Is there any 
need in going so straight and quick ? Do you only care 
to know whether the poor merchant of Venice wUl'escape 
Shylock's knife? Here are two happy lovers, seated 
under the palace walls on a calm night ; wouldn't you 
like to listen to the peaceful reverie which rises like a 
perfume {rom the bottom of their hearts ? 

" How sweet the moonliglit sleeps upon this bank ! 
Here will we sit and let the sounds of music 
Creep in our ears : soft stillness and the night 
Become the touches of sweet harmony. 
Sit, Jessica. Look how the floor of heaven 
Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold : 
There's not the smallest orb which thou behold'st, 
But in his motion like an angel sings, 
Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubims ; 
Such harmony is in immortal souls ; 
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay 
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it. 

(Enter musicians,) 
Come, ho ! and wake Diana with a hymn : 
With sweetest touches pierce your mistress' ear,* 
And draw her home with music. 

Jessica. I am never meny when I hear sweet music." ^ 

* Merchant of Venice^ ▼. 1. 

126 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

" Have I not the right, when I see the big laughing 
face of a clownish servant, to stop near him, see him 
gesticulate, frolic, gossip, go through his hundred pranks 
and his hundred grimaces, and treat myself to the 
comedy of his spirit and gaiety ? Two fine gentlemen 
pass by. I hear the rolling fire of their metaphors, and 
I follow their skirmish of wit Here in a comer is the 
artless arch face of a young wencL Do you forbid me 
to linger by her, to watch her smiles, her sudden blushes, 
the chUdish pout of her rosy lips, the coquetry of her 
pretty motions ? You are in a great hurry if the prattle 
of this fresh and musical voice can't stop you. Is it no 
pleasure to view this succession of sentiments and 
faces ? Is your fancy so dull, that you must have the 
mighty mechanism of a geometrical plot to shake it ? 
My sixteenth century playgoers were easier to move. 
A sunbeam that had lost its way on an old wall, a foolish 
song thrown into the middle of a drama, occupied their 
mind as well as the blackest of catastrophes. After the 
horrible scene in which Shylock brandished his butcher's 
knife before Antonio's bare breast, they saw just as 
willingly the petty household wrangle, and the amusing 
bit of raillery which ends the piece. Like soft moving 
water, their soul rose and sank in an instant to the levd 
of the poet's emotion, and their sentiments readily 
flowed in the bed he had prepared for them. They let 
him stray here and there on his journey, and did not 
forbid him to make two voyages at once. They allowed 
several plots in one. If but the slightest thread united 
them it was sufficient Lorenzo eloped with Jessica, 
Shylock was frustrated in his revenge, Portia's suitors 
failed in the test imposed upon them ; Portia, disguised 
as a doctor of laws, took from her husband the ring 


vhich he had promised nevei to part with ; these three 
or four comedies, diaanited, mingled, were shuffled and 
unfolded together, like an. unknotted akein in which 
threads of a hundred colours are entwined. T(^ther 
with diversity, my spectators allowed improbability. 
Comedy is a slight winged creature, which flutters from 
dream to dream, whose wings you wotdd break if you 
held it captive in the narrow prison of common sense. 
Do not piesB its fictions too hard ; do not probe their 
contents. Let them float before your eyes like a 
charming swift dream. Let tiie fleeting apparition 
plunge back into the bright misty land from whence it 
came. For an instant it deluded you ; let it sufBca. 
It is sweet to leave the world of realities behind you ; 
the mind rests amidst impossibilities. We are happy 
when delivered from the rough chains of logic, to wander 
amongst strange adventures, to live in sheer romance, 
and know that we are living there. I do not try to 
deceive you, and make you believe in the world where 
I take yon. A man must disbelieve it in order to enjoy 
it. We must give ourselves up to illusion, and feel 
that we are giving ourselves up to it. We must smile 
as we listen. We smile in The Winter's Tale, when 
Hennione descends from her pedestal, and when Leontes 
discover his wife in the statue, having believed her to 
be dead. We smile in GyvAeline, when we see the lone 
caTem in which the young princes have lived like 
savage hunt«ra. Improbability deprives emotions of 
their sting. The events interest or touch us without 
making us suffer. At the very moment when sympathy 
is too intense, we remind ourselves that it is all a fancy. 
They become like distant objects, whose distance softens 
their outline, and wraps them in a luminous veil of blue 

128 THE RENAISSANCK book n. 

air. Your true comedy is an opera. We listen to 
sentiments without thinking too much of plot We 
follow the tender or gay melodies without reflecting that 
they interrupt the action. We dream elsewhere on 
hearing music ; here I bid you dream on hearing 

Then the speaker of the prologue retires, and the 
actors come on. 

As you Like it is a caprice/ Action there is none ; 
interest barely ; likelihood still less. And the whole is 
charming. Two cousins, princes' daughters, come to a 
forest with a court clown, Celia disguised as a shep- 
herdess, Eosalind as a boy. They find here the old 
duke, Eosalind*s father, who, driven out of his duchy, 
lives with his friends like a philosopher and a hunter. 
They find amorous shepherds, who with songs and 
prayers pursue intractable shepherdesses. They discover 
or they meet with lovers who become their husbands. 
Suddenly it is announced that the wicked Duke Fred- 
erick, who had usurped the crown, has just retired to a 
cloister, and restored the throne to the old exiled duke. 
Every one gets married, every one dances, everything 
ends wnth a " rustic revelry." Where is the pleasant- 
ness of these puerilities ? First, the fact of its being 
puerile ; the absence of the serious is refreshing. There 
are no events, and there is no plot We gently follow 
the easy current of graceful or melancholy emotions, 
which takes us away and moves us about without weary- 
ing. The place adds to the illusion and charm. It is 

* In English, a word is wanting to express the French fantaisie 
used by M. Taine, in describing this scene : what in music is called a 
eapriecio. Tennyson calls the Princess a medley, but it is ambigaouA. 
— Tr. 

an aatnunn forest, in vhidi the sultry mys peimeate the 
blushing oak leaves, or the half-stript ashes tremble and 
smile to the feeble breath of evening. The lovers 
wander by brooks that "brawl" under antique roots. 
As yon listen to them, you see the slim birches, whose 
cloak of lace grows glossy under the slant raya of the 
sun that gilds them, and the thoughts wander down the 
moesy vistas in which their footsteps are not beard. 
What better place could be chosen for the comedy of 
sentiment and the play of heart-fancies ! Is not this 
a fit spot in vihich to listen to love-talk ? Some one 
has seen Orlando, Rosalind's lover, in this glade; she 
hears it and blushes. " Alas the day 1 . . , What did 
lie, when thon sawest him? What said he? How 
looked he ? Wherein went he ? What makes he here ? 
Did he ask for me ? Where remains be ? How parted 
he with thee? and when shalt thou see him again?" 
Then, with a lower voice, somewhat hesitating : " Looks 
be as freshly as be did the day he wrestled ? " She is 
not yet exhansted : " Do you not know I am a woman ? 
Wben I think, I must speak. Sweet, say on." * One 
question follows another, she closes the mouth of her 
friend, who is ready to answer. At every word she 
jests, but ^tated, blushing, with a forced gaiety ; her 
bosom heaves, and her heart beats. Nevertheless she 
is calmer when Orlando comes ; bandies words with 
him ; sheltered xmder her di^uise, she makes him con- 
fess that he loves Bosalind. Then she plagues him, 
like tlie frolic, the wag, the coquette she is. " Why, 
how now, Orlando, where have you been all this while ? 
You a lover ? " Orlando repeats tliat he loves Bosalind, 
and she pleases herself by making him repeat it more 
' jia you Like it, iii. 3. 
VOL. n. K 

130 THE RENAISSANCE. bookii. 

than once. She sparkles with wit, jests, mischievous 
pranks; pretty fits of anger, feigned sulks, bursts of 
laughter, deafening babble, engaging caprices. " Come, 
woo me, woo me ; for now I am in a holiday humour, 
and like enough to consent What would you say to 
me now, an I were your very very Rosalind ? " And 
every now and then she repeats with an arch smile, 
" And I am your Rosalind ; am I not your Rosalind ? " ^ 
Orlando protests that he would die. Die ! Who ever 
thought of dying for love ! Leander ? He took one 
baih too many in the HeUespont ; so poets have said he 
died for love. Troilus ? A Greek broke his head with 
a club ; so poets have said he died for love. Come, 
come, Rosalind will be softer. And then she plays at 
marriage with him, and makes Celia pronounce the 
solemn words. She irritates and torments her pretended 
husband ; tells him all the whims she means to indulge 
in, all the pranks she will play, all the teasing he will 
have to endure. The retort^s come one after another 
like fireworks. At every phrase we follow the looks of 
these sparkling eyes, the curves of this laughing mouth, 
the quick movements of this supple figure. It is a 
bird's petulance and volubility. " coz, coz, coz, my 
pretty little coz, that thou didst know how many fathom 
deep I am in love." Then she provokes her cousin 
Celia, sports with her hair, calls her by every woman's 
name. Antitheses without end, words all a-jimible, 
quibbles, pretty exaggerations, word-racket; as you 
Usten, you fancy it is the warbling of a nightingale. 
The trill of repeated metaphors, the melodious roll of 
the poetical gamut, the summer-warbling rustling under 
the foliage, change the piece into a veritable opera. 

^ As you Like it, ir. 1. 


The three lovers end by chanting a sort of trio. He 
first throws out a fancy, the others take it up. Four 
times this strophe is renewed ; and the symmetry of 
ideas, added to the jingle of the rhymes, makes of a 
dialc^e a concerto of love : 

" Fhd)e. Oood shepherd, tell this youth what 'ti« to lova 

Silviut. It is to be all made of eighs and tears ; 
And so am I for Phebe. 

P. And I for Ganymede. 

Orlando. And I for BoeaUnd, 

Boialifid. And I for no woman. . . . 

S. It ie to be all made of &nta;^, 
All made of pasaiou, and all made of wishes, 
All adoration, duty, and observance, 
All hnmbleness, all patience and impatience, 
All puri^, all trial, all obeerrance ; 
Ajid 80 I am for Phebe. 

P. And 80 am I for Ganymede. 

0. And so am I for Roealind. 

R. And BO am I for no woman." ' 

The necessity of singing is so urgent, that a minute 
later soi^ break out of themselves. The prose and 
the conversation end in lyric poetry, We pass straight 
on into these odes. We do not find ourselves in a 
new country. We feel the emotion and foolish gaiety 
as if it were a holiday. We see the graceful couple 
whom the song of the two pages brings before us, 
passing in the misty light " o'er the green com-field," 
amid the ham of sportive insects, on the finest day 
of t^e flowering spring-time. Unlikelihood grows 
natural, and we are not aatonished when we see Hymen 

> As you Xttt.i^ r. S. 

132 THE RENAISSANCE. book ii. 

leading the two brides by the hand to give them to 
their husbands. 

Whilst the young folks sing, the old folk talk. 
Their Ufe also is a novel, but a sad on& Shakspeaie's 
delicate soul, bruised by the shocks of social life, 
took refuge in contemplations of solitary Ufe. To for- 
get the strife and annoyances of the world, he must 
bury himself in a wide silent forest, and 

'' Under the shade of melancholy boughs, 
Loose and n^lect the creeping hours of tune." ^ 

We look at the bright images which the sun carves 
on the white beech-boles, the shade of trembling leaves 
flickering on the thick moss, the long waves of the 
sunmiit of the trees ; then the sharp sting of care is 
blunted ; we suffer no more, simply remembering that 
we suffered once ; we feel nothing but a gentle misan- 
thropy, and being renewed, we are the better for it. 
The old duke is happy in his exile. Solitude has given 
him rest, delivered him from flattery, reconciled him 
to nature. He pities the stags which he is obliged to 
hunt for food : 

" Come, shall we go and kill us venison f 
And yet it irks me the poor dappled fools, 
Being native burghers of this desert city, 
Should in their own confines with forked heads 
Have their round haunches gored. "^ 

Nothing sweeter than this mixture of tender compassion, 
dreamy philosophy, delicate sadness, poetical complaints, 
and rustic songs. One of the lords sings : 

» As you Like it, ii 7. « Ihid, ii. 1. 

CHAP. iv. SHAESP£ABE. 133 

" Blow, blow, thou winter wind, 
Thou art not ao unkind 

As man's ingratitude ; 
Thy tooth is not so keen, 
Because thou art not seen. 

Although thy breath be rude. 
Heigh-ho ! sing, heigh-ho I unto the green holly : 
Most friendship is feigning, most loTing mere folly : 
Then, heigh-ho, the holly ! 
This life is most jolly." ^ 

Amongst these lords is found a soul that suffers more, 
Jacques the melancholy, one of Shakspeare's best-loved 
characters, a transparent mask behind which we perceive 
the face of the poet He is sad because he is tender ; 
he feels the contact of things too keenly, and what 
leaves others indifferent, makes him weep.^ He does 
not scold, he is sad ; he does not reason, he is moved ; 
he has not the combative spirit of a reforming moralist ; 
his soul is sick and weary of life. Impassioned im- 
agination leads quickly to disgust. like opium, it ex- 
cites and shatters. It leads man to the loftiest philo- 
sophy, then lets him down to the whims of a child 
Jacques leaves other men abruptly, and goes to the quiet 
nooks to be alone. He loves his sadness, and would 
not exchange it for joy. Meeting Orlando, he says : 

*' Rosalind Ib your love's name ? 
Orlando. Yes, just 
Jaequ69. 1 do not like her name." ^ 

He has the fancies of a nervous woman. He is scan- 
dalised because Orlando writes sonnets on the forest 

^ As you LQce it, ii. 7. 

* Compare Jacques wiUi the Alceste of Moli&re. It is the contrast 
qetween a misanthrope through reasoning and one through imagination. 
' AsycuLikeU, iii 2. 

134 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

trees. He is eccentric, and finds subjects of grief and 
gaiety, where others would see nothing of the sort : 

^' A fool, a fool ! I met a fool i* the forest, 
A motley fool ; A miserable world I 
As I do Uve by food, I met a fool ; 
Who laid him down and bask'd him in the son, 
And rail'd on Lady Fortune in good terms, 
In good set terms and yet a motley fooL . . 

Jacques hearing him moralise in such a manner b^ins 
to laugh " sans intermission" that a fool could be so 
meditative : 

noble fool ; A worthy fool ! Motley's the only wear. . . . 

that I were a fool ! 

1 am ambitious for a motley coat." ^ 

The next minute he returns to his melancholy disserta- 
tions, bright pictures whose vivacity explains his char- 
acter, and betrays Shakspeare, hiding under his name : 

'' All the world's a stage. 
And all the men and women merely players : 
They have their exits and their entrances ; 
And one man in his time plays many parts, 
His acts being seven ages. At first the in&nt, 
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms. 
And then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel. 
And shining morning face, creeping Uke snail 
Unwillingly to school And then the lover. 
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad 
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Th^ a soldier. 
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard, 
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel, 
Seeking the bubble reputation 
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice, 

^ As you Like U,u,7, 


In fair round belly with good capon lined, 

With eyes severe and beard of formal cut, 

Full of wise saws and modem instances ; 

And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts 

Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon. 

With spectacles on nose and pouch on side, 

His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide 

For his shrunk shank ; and his big manly voice. 

Turning again toward childish treble, pipes 

And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all. 

That ends this strange eventful history. 

Is second childishness and mere oblivion, 

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything." ^ 

As you Like t^ is a half dream. Midsummer Night's 
Dream is a complete one. 

The scene, buried in the far-off mist of fabulous 
antiquity, carries us back to Theseus, Duke of Athens, 
who is preparing his palace for his marriage with the 
beautiful queen of the Amazons. The style, loaded 
with contorted images, fills the mind with strange and 
splendid visions, and the airy elf-world divert the 
comedy into the fairy-land from whence it sprung. 

Love is still the theme : of all sentiments, is it not 
the greatest fancy-weaver ? But love is not heard here 
in the charming prattle of Eosalind ; it is glaring, like 
the season of the year. It does not brim over in slight 
conversations, in supple and skipping prose ; it breaks 
forth into big rhyming odes, dressed in magnificent 
metaphors, sustained by impassioned accents, such as a 
warm night, odorous and star-spangled, inspires in a 
poet and a lover. Lysander and Hermia agree to meet. 

^ Ab you Like U, IL 7. 

136 THE RENAISSANCK book n. 

**Lytander. To-morrow night when Phoebe doth behold 
Her fiilTer Tisage in the wateiy glass, 
Decking with liquid pearl the bladed grass, 
A time that lorers' flights doth still conceal. 
Through Athens' gates hare we devised to steaL 

Hermia, And in the wood, where often yon and I 
Upon fiiint primrose-beds were wont to lie. . . . 
There my Lysander and myself shall meet" ^ 

They get lost, and fall asleep, wearied, under the trees. 
Puck squeezes in the youth's eyes the juice of a 
magic flower, and changes his heart Presently, when 
he awakes, he will become enamoured of the first 
woman he sees. Meanwhile Demetrius, Hermia's re- 
jected lover, wanders with Helena, whom he rejects, in 
the solitary wood. The mi^c flower changes him in 
turn : he now loves Helena. The lovers flee and 
pursue one another, beneath the loflby trees, in the calm 
night We smile at their transports, their complaints, 
their ecstasies, and yet we join in them. This passion 
is a dream, and yet it moves us. It is like those airy 
webs which we find at morning on the crest of the 
hedgerows where the dew has spread them, and whose 
weft sparkles like a jewel-easket Nothing can be 
more fragile, and nothing more graceful The poet 
sports with emotions ; he mingles, confuses, redoubles, 
interweaves them ; he twines and imtwines these loves 
like the mazes of a dance, and we see the noble and 
tender figures pass by the verdant bushes, beneath the 
radiant eyes of the stars, now wet with tears, now 
bright with rapture. They have the abandonment of 
true love, not the grossness of sensual love. Nothing 
causes us to fall from the ideal world in which Shak- 

* Midmmmer NigM$ Dream, L 1. 


speare conducts tis. Dazzled by beauty, they adore it, 
and the spectacle of their happiness, their emotion, and 
their tenderness, is a Mnd of enchantment 

Above these two conples flutters and hums the 
svarm of elves and fairies. They alBo love. Titania, 
their queen, has a young boy for her favourite, son of 
an Indian king, of whom Oberon, her husband, wishes 
to deprive her. They quarrel, so that the elves creep 
for fear into the acorn cups, in the golden primroses. 
Oberon, by way of vei^eance, touches Titania's sleeping 
eyes with the magic flower, and thus on waking the 
oimblest and most charming of the fairies finds herself 
enamoured of a stupid blockhead with an ass's head. 
She kneels before him ; she sets on his " hairy temples 
a coronet of &esh and fragrant flowers :" 

" And that same dew, which sometime on the buds 
Waa wont to swell like round and orient pearls, 
Stood now within the pretty floweret's eyee, 
Like tears that did their own disgrace bewail" > 

She calls round her all her fairy attendants ; 

" Be kind and courteous b> this gentleman ; 
Hop in his walks, and gambol in his eyee ; 
Feed him with apricocks and dewberries. 
With purple gntpee, green figs, and mulberries ; 
The honey-bags steel from the humble-bees, 
And for night-tapers crop their waxen thighs 
And light them at the fiery glow-wonn's ejee, 
To have my love to bed and to arise ; 
And pluck the wings from painted butterflies 
To fiui the moonbeams from his Blee{nng eyes. ... 
Come, wiut upon him ; lead him to my bower. 
* Jtidfitmmer NigM* Dman, ir. 1. 

138 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

The moon, methinks, looks with a wateiy eye ; 
And when she weeps, weeps every little flower, 
Lamenting some enforced chastity. 
Tie up my love's tongue, bring him silently." ^ 

It was necessary, for her love brayed horribly, and 
to all the offers of Titania, replied vnth a petition for 
hay. What can be sadder and sweeter than this irony 
of Shakspeare ? What raillery against love, and what 
tenderness for love ! The sentiment is divine : its 
object unworthy. The heart is ravished, the eyes blind. 
It is a golden butterfly, fluttering in the mud; and 
Shakspeare, whilst painting its misery, preserves all its 

'' Come, sit thee down upon this floweiy bed. 
While I thy amiable cheeks do coy, 
And stick musk-roses in thy sleek smooth head. 
And kiss thy fair large ears, my gentle joy. ... 
Sleep thou, and I will wind thee in my arms. . . . 
So doth the woodbine the sweet honeysuckle 
Gently entwist ; the female ivy so 
Enrings the barky fingers of the elm. 
0, how I love thee ! how I dote on thee ! " * 

At the return of morning, when 

" The eastern gate, all fiery red. 
Opening on Neptune with fair blessed beams, 
Turns into yellow gold his salt green streams," ^, 

the enchantment ceases, Titania awakes on her couch 
of wild thyme and drooping violets. She drives the 
monster away ; her recollections of the night are efifaced 
in a vague twilight : 

* Midsummer NighCs Dream^ iiL 1. ' Ibid. iv. 1. ■ Ibid, iiL 2. 


" These things seem small and undistinguishable, 
Like far-off mountains turned into clouds. " ^ 

And the fairies 

'' Go seek some dew drops here 
And hang a pearl in every cowslip's ear." ^ 

Such is Shakspeare's fantasy, a slight tissue of bold 
inventions, of ardent passions, mdancholy mockery, 
dazzling poetry, such as one of Titania's elves would 
have made. Nothing could be more like the poet's 
mind than these nimble genii, children of air and flame, 
whose flights "compass the globe" in a second, who 
glide over the foam of the waves and skip between the 
atoms of the winds. Ariel flies, an invisible songster, 
aroimd shipwrecked men to console them, discovers the 
thoughts of traitors, pursues the savage beast Caliban, 
spreads gorgeous visions before lovers, and does all in 
a lightning-flash : 

'' Where the bee sucks, there suck I : 
In a cowslip's bell I lie. . . . 
Merrily, merrily shall I live now 
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough. . . . 
I drink the air before me, and return 
Or ere your pulse twice beat." * 

Shakspeare glides over things on as swift a wing, by 
leaps as sudden, with a touch as delicate. 

What a soul ! what extent of action, and what 
sovereignty of an unique faculty ! what diverse crea- 
tions, and what persistence of the same impress ! 
There they all are united, and all marked by the same 

^ Midsummer Ntght*8 Dream, iv. i. * Ibid, ii 1, 

■ Tempest f v. 1. 

140 THE RENAISSANCK book n. 

sign, void of will and reason, governed by mood, 
imagination, or pure passion, destitute of the faculties 
contrary to those of the poet, dominated by the cor- 
poreal type which his painter's eyes have conceived, en- 
dowed by the habits of mind and by the vehement 
sensibility which he finds in himself.^ Go through the 
groups, and you will only discover in them divers forms 
and divers states of the same power. Here, a herd of 
brutes, dotards, and gossips, made up of a mechanical 
imagination ; further on, a company of men of wit, ani- 
mated by a gay and foolish imagination ; then, a 
charming swarm of women whom their delicate im- 
agination raises so high, and their self-forgetting love 
carries so far ; elsewhere a band of villains, hardened 
by imbridled passions, inspired by artistic rapture ; in 
the centre a mournful train of grand characters, whose 
excited brain is filled with sad or criminal visions, and 
whom an inner destiny urges to murder, madness, or 
deatL Ascend one stage, and contemplate the whole 
scene : the aggregate bears the same mark as the details. 
The drama reproduces promiscuously uglinesses, base- 
nesses, horrors, unclean details, profligate and ferocious 
manners, the whole reality of life just as it is, when it 
is unrestrained by decorum, common sense, reason, and 
duty. Comedy, led through a phantasmagoria of pic- 
tures, gets lost in the likely and the unlikely, with no 
other connection but the caprice of an amused imagina- 
tion,Vantonly disjointed and romantic, an'^opera without 
music, a concerto of melancholy and tender sentiments, 
which bears the mind into the supernatural world, and 
brings before our eyes on its fairy-wings the genius 

^ There is the same law in the organic and in the moral world. It 
is what Geoffrey Saint-Hilaire calls unity of composition. 


which has created it Look now. Do you not see the 
poet behind the crowd of his creations ? They have 
heralded Us approach. They have all shown some- 
what of him. Iteady, impetuoos, impassioned, delicate, 
his genius is pure imagination, touched more vividly and 
by ^ghter things th&n ours. Hence his style, blooming 
with exuberant ime^es, loaded with ex^gerated meta- 
pbors, whofe strangeness is like incoherence, whose 
wealth is superabundant, the work of a mind, which, at 
the least incitement, produces too much and takes too 
wide leaps. Hence this involuntaty psychology, and this 
terrible penetration, which instantaneously perceiving all 
the effocts of a sitoation, and all the details of a charac- 
ter, concentrates them in every response, and gives to a 
fignie a relief and a coloniii^ which create illusion. 
Hence oui emotion and tenderness. We say to him, as 
Deademona to Othello : " I love thee for the battles, 
si^es, fortunes thou hast psssed, and for the distressful 
stroke that thy youth suffered." 

142 THE RENAISSANCE. book il 




"I WOULD have my reader fully understand/' says 
Luther in the preface to his complete works, " that I 
have been a monk and a bigoted Papist, so intoxicated, 
or rather so swallowed up in papistical doctrines, that 
I was quite ready, if I had been able, to kill or procure 
the death of those who should have rejected obedience 
to the Pope by so much as a syllable. I was not all 
cold or all ice in the Pope's defence, like Eckius and 
his like, who veritably seemed to me to constitute 
themselves his defenders rather for their belly's sake 
than because they looked at the matter seriously. 
More, to this day they seem to mock at him, like 
Epicureans. I for my part proceeded frankly, like a 
man who has horribly feared the day of judgment, and 
who yet hoped to be saved with a shaking of all his 
bones." Again, when he saw Rome for the first time, 
he prostrated himself, saying, " I salute thee, holy Rome 
. . . bathed in the blood of so many martyrs." Imagine, 
if you may, the effect which the shameless paganism 
of the Italian Renaissance had upon such a mind, so 
loyal, so Christian. The beauty of art, the charm of 
a refined and sensuous existence, had taken no hold 
upon him ; he judged morals, and he judged them with 


Ilia conscience only. He r^arded tMa southern civili- 
sation with the eyee of a man of the north, and under- 
stood its vices only, like Ascham, who said he had seen 
in Venice "more libertie to sinne in ix dayes than 
ever I heard tell of in out noble Citie of London in 
IX yeare." ^ Like Arnold and Channing in the present 
day, like all the men of Germanic ^ race and education, 
he was horrified at this voluptuous life, now reckless 
and now licentious, but always void of moral principles, 
given up to passion, enlivened by irony, caring only for 
the present, destitute of belief in the infinite, with no 
other worship than that of visible beauty, oo other 
object than the search after pleasure, no other religion 
than the terrors of imagination and the idolatry of the 
" eyes. 

" I would not," said Luther afterwards, " for a 
hundred thousand florins have gone without seeing 
Bome; I should always have doubted whether I was 
not doing injustice to the Pope. The crimes of Bome 
are incredible ; no one will credit so great a perversity 
who has not the witness of his eyes, ears, personal 
knowle^e. . . . There reigned all the villaniea and 
iitfomies, all the atrocious crimes, in particular blind 
greed, contempt of God, perjuries, sodomy. ... We 
Germans swill liqueur enough to split us, whilst the 
Italians are sober. Sut they are the most impious of 
men; they make a mock of true religion, they scorn 
the rest of us Christians, because we believe everything 
in Scripture. . . . There is a saying in Italy which 
they make use of when they go to church : ' Come 

* Boger iMhant, Tht Seholemaaler (1G7D}, ed. Arbcr, 1870, first 
book, p. 63. 

* Boe, in Ogrinti^ Lord Veril's jodgmeot on the Italiuii. 

144 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

and let ns conform to the popular error/ * If we were 
obliged/ they say again, ' to believe in every word of 
God, we should be the most wretched of men, and we 
should never be able to have a moment's cheerfulness ; 
we must put a good face on it, and not believe every- 
thing/ This is what Leo X. did, who, hearing a 
discussion as to the immortality or mortality of the 
soul, took the latter sida ' For,* said he, * it would 
be terrible to believe in a future state. Conscience is 
an evil beast, who arms man against himself/ . . . The 
Italians are either epicureans or* superstitious. The 
people fear St. Anthony and St Sebastian more than 
Christ, because of the plagues they send. This is why, 
when they want to prevent the Italians from commit- 
ting a nuisance anywhere, they paint up St. Anthony 
with his fiery lance. Thus do they live in extreme 
superstition, ignorant of God's word, not believing the 
resurrection of the flesh, nor life everlasting, and fearing 
only temporal evils. Their blasphemy also is frightful, 
. . . and the cruelty of their revenge is atrocious. 
When they cannot get rid of their enemies in any 
other way, they lay ambush for them in the churches, 
so that one man cleft his enemy's head before the altar. 
. . . There are often murders at funerals on account 
of inheritances. . . . They celebrate the Carnival with 
extreme impropriety and foUy for several weeks, and 
they have made a custom of various sins and extrava- 
gances at it, for they are men without conscience, who 
live in open sin, and make light of the marriage tia 
. . . We Germans, and other simple nations, are like 
a bare clout ; but the Italians are painted and speckled 
with all sorts of false opinions, and disposed still to 
embrace many worse. . . . Their fasts are more splen- 


did than our most stunptnous feasts. They dress 
extraTagantly ; where we spend a florin on bur clothes, 
they put down ten florins to have a silk coat . . . 
"When they (the Italians) are chaste, it is sodomy with 
them. There is no society amongst them. No oue 
trusts another ; they do not come tc^ether freely, like 
OS Germans; they do not allow strangers to speak 
publicly with their wires : compared with the Germans, 
they are altogether men of the cloister." These hard 
words are weak compared with the facts.^ Treasons, 
assassinations, tortures, open debauchery, the practice 
of poisoning, the worst and most shameless outrages, 
are nnblushingly and pubUcly tolerated in the open 
light of heaven. In 1490, the Pope's vicar having 
forbidden clerics and laics to keep concubines, the 
Pope revoked the decree, " saying that that was not 
forbidden, because the life of priests and ecclesiastics 
was such that hardly one was to be found who did not 
keep a concubine, or at least who had not a courtesan." 
Csesar Borgia at the capture of Capua " chose forty of 
the most beautiful women, whom he kept for himself; 
aad a pretty large number of captives were sold at a 
low price at Eoma" Under Alexander VI., " all 
ecclesiastics, from the greatest to the least, have concu- 
bines in the place of wives, and that publicly. If God 
hinder it not," adds the historian, " this corruption will 
pass to the monks and reUgious orders, although, to 
confess the truth, almost all the monasteries of the 
towB have become bawd-houses, without any one to 
apeak against it." With respect to Alexander VI., 

' 3«e Corjnit hiMaricomm medii ixvi, Q. Eccard, voL iL ; Jafa. 
Bnrchudi, high cluunbtirlMii to Alexander VI,, IHarium, p. 2134. 
Onicdardini, IklT Moria Sllalia, p. 211, ed. Panth^OD LitUiaire. 


146 THE RENAISSANCE. book u. 

who loved his daughter Lucretia, the reader may find 
in Burchard the description of the marvellous orgies 
in which he joined with Lucretia and Caesar, and the 
enumeration of the prizes which he distributed. Let 
the reader also read for himself the story of the besti- 
ality of Pietro Luigi Famese, the Pope's son, how the 
young and upright Bishop of Fano died from his outrage, 
and how the Pope, speaking of this crime as " a youth- 
ful levity," gave him in this secret bull " the fullest 
absolution from all the penalties which he might have 
incurred by human incontinence, in whatever shape or 
with whatever cause." As to civil security, Bentivoglio 
caused all the Marescotti to be put to death ; Hippolyto 
d'Este had his brother's eyes put out in his presence ; 
Caesar Borgia killed his brother ; murder is consonant 
with their public manners, and excites no wonder. A 
fisherman was asked why he had not informed the 
governor of the town that he had seen a body thrown 
into the water ; " he replied that he had seen about a 
hundred bodies thrown into the water during his life- 
time in the same place, and that no one had ever 
troubled himself about it." "In our town," says an 
old historian, " much murder and pillage was done by 
day and night, and hardly a day passed but some one 
was killed." Caesar Borgia one day killed Peroso, the 
Pope's favourite, between his arms and under his cloak, 
so that the blood spurted up to the Pope's face. He 
caused his sister's husband to be stabbed and then 
strangled in open day, on the steps of the palace; 
count, if you can, his assassinations. Certainly he and 
his father, by their character, morals, complete, open 
and systematic wickedness, have presented to Europe 
the two most successfid images of the devil. To 


sum up in a word, it was on the model of this society, 
and for this society, that Machiavelli wrote his Prince. 
The complete development of all the faculties and all 
the lu3ts of man, the complete destruction of all the 
restraints and all the shame of man, are the two dis- 
tdnguishing marks of this grand and perverse culture. 
To make man a strong being, endowed with genius, 
andacity, presence of mind, astute policy, dissimulation, 
patience, and to turn all this power to the acquisition 
of eveiy kind of pleasure, pleasures of the body, of 
luxury, arts, Uteratiue, authority ; that is, to form and 
to set free an admirable and fonnidable animal, very 
lustful and well armed, — such was his object ; and the 
effect, after a hundred years, is visible. They tore 
one another to pieces like beautiful lions and superb 
panthers. In this society, which was turned into an 
arena, amid so many hatreds, and when exhaustion was 
setting in, the foreigner appeared : all bent beneath hia 
lash; they were caged, and thus they pine away, in 
dull pleasures, with low vices, bowing their backs.' 
Despotism, the Inquisition, the Cicisbei, dense igno- 
rance, and open knavery, the shameleasness and the 
smartness of harlequins and rascals, misery and vermin, 
— Buch is the issue of the Italian Renaissance. like 
the old civilisations of Greece and Rome,' like the 
modem civilisations of Provence and Spain, like aU 
southern civilisations, it bears in its bosom an irreme- 
diable vice, a had and false conception of man. The 
Germans of the sixteenth century, like the Germans of 

' 8m, in CiMiiova's Mtvwirm, the picture of this degndatioo. See 
■lao tlie MtTHoira of ScipioDe Roisi, od the convents of Tnscanf (t the 
eloM of tha eighteenth ceator^. 

■ From Homer to Conitantine, the ancient city iraa ui »MocJBtion of 
fnemcD, whose aim wm the conquest and deatruction of other freemen. 

148 THE RENAISSANCE. book il 

the fourth century, have rightly judged it ; with their 
simple common sense, with their fundamental honesty, 
they have put their fingers on the secret plague-spot 
A society cannot be founded only on the pursuit of 
pleasure and power ; a society can only be founded on 
the respect for liberty and justice. In order that the 
great himian renovation which in the sixteenth century 
raised the whole of Europe might be perfected and 
endure, it was necessary that, meeting with another 
race, it should develop another culture, and that from 
a more wholesome conception of existence it might 
educe a better form of civilisation. 

Thus, side by side with the Eenaissance, was bom 
the Keformation. It also was in fact a new birth, one 
in harmony with the genius of the Germanic peoples. 
The distinction between this genius and others is its 
moral principles. Grosser and heavier, more given to 
gluttony and drunkenness,^ these nations are at the same 
time more under the influence of conscience, firmer in 
the observance of their word, more disposed to self- 
denial and sacrifice. Such their climate has made them ; 
and such they have continued, from Tacitus to Luther, 
from Knox to Gustavus Adolphus and Kant. In the 

* Miinoires de la Margrave de BairttUh, See also Misson, Voyage 
en Italie, 1700. Compare the manners of the students at the present 
day. ** The Germans are, as you know, wonderful drinkers : no people 
ill the world are more flattering, more civil, more officious ; but yet 
they have terrible customs in the matter of drinking. With them every- 
thing is done drinking : they drink in doing everything. There waa 
not time during a visit to say three words, before you were astonished 
to see the collation arrive, or at least a few jugs of wine, accompanied 
by a plate of crusts of bread, dished up with pepper and salt ; a fatal pre- 
paration for bad drinkers. Then you must become acquainted ¥dth the 


course of time, and beneath the inceas&nt action of the 
ages, the phlegmatic body, fed on coarse food and strong 
drink, had become rusty, the nerves less excitable, the 
muscles less strung, the desires less seconded by action, 
the life more dull and slow, the soul mora hardened and 
indifTerent to the shocks of the body : mud, rain, sqot, 
a profosion of unpleasing and gloomy sights, the want 
of lively and delicate excitements of the senses, keep 
man in a militant attitude. Heroes in the barbarous 
ages, workers to-day, they endure weariness now as 
they courted wounds then ; now, as then, nobility of 
soul appeals to them ; thrown back upon the enjoy- 
ments of the soul, they find in these a world, the world 
of moral beauty. For them the ideal is displaced ; it 
IB no longer amidst forms, made up of force and joy, 
but it is transferred to sentiments, made up of truth, 
nprightness, attachment to duty, observance of order. 
What matters it if the storm rages and if it snows, if 
tiie wind blusters in the black pine-forests or on the 
wan sea-suTgea where the sea-gulls scream, if a man, 
stiff and blue with cold, shuttii^ himself up in his 
cottage, have but a dish of sourkrout or a piece of salt 
beef, under his smoky light and beside his fire of turf ; 
another kingdom opens to reward him, the kingdom of 
inward contentment : his wife loves him and is faithful ; 
hia children round Ms hearth spell out the old family 

lam which are afterward* obterred, tacrad and inTioUbU Uws. Yod 
mnit nerer drink without drinking to some one's health ; alao, &f[«r 
drinkiDg, yonmnst offer the wine to him whose health yon haredmnk. 
Ton moit never refose the glav which is offered to you, and you mast 
natonlly dnin it to its Lut di«p. Beflect a little, I heseech yon, on 
dine cnatoms, and sae how it u pooible to cease drinking ; accordingly, 
they nerer cease. In Oennany it ia ■ perpetnal drinking-bont ; t^ drink 
in Goniany is to drink for ever." 

150 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

Bible ; he is the master in his home, the protector, the 
benefactor, honoured by others, honoured by himself ; 
and if so be that he needs assistance, he knows that at 
the first appeal he will see his neighbours stand faith- 
fully and bravely by his side. The reader need only 
compare the portraits of the time, those of Italy and 
Germany ; he will comprehend at a glance the two 
races and the two civilisations, the Benaissance and the 
Beformation : on one side a half-naked condottiere in 
Boman costimie, a cardinal in his robes, amply draped, 
in a rich arm-chair, carved and adorned with heads of 
lions, foliage, dancing fauns, he himself full of irony, 
and voluptuous, with the shrewd and dangerous look of 
a politician and man of the world, craftily poised and 
on his guard ; on the other side, some honest doctor, a 
theologian, a simple man, with badly combed locks, stiff 
as a post, in his simple gown of coarse black serge, 
with big books of dogma ponderously clasped, a con- 
scientious worker, an exemplary father of a family. See 
now the great artist of the age, a laborious and conscien- 
tious workman, a follower of Luther's, a true Northman 
— Albert Durer.^ He also, like Baphael and Titian, has 
his ideal of man, an inexhaustible ideal, whence spring 
by hundreds living figures and the representations of 
manners, but how national and original ! He cares 
not for expansive and happy beauty : to him nude 
bodies are but bodies undressed : narrow shoulders, 
pit)minent stomachs, thin legs, feet weighed down by 
shoes, his neighbour the carpenter's, or his gossip the 
sausage-seller's. The heads stand out in his etchings, 
remorselessly scraped and scooped away, savage or 
commonplace, often wrinkled by the fatigues of trade, 

^ See his letters, and the sympathy expressed for Lather. 


generally sad, anxious, and patient, harshly and wretch- 
edly transformed by the necessities of realistic life. 
Where is the vista out of this minute copy of ugly 
truth ? To what land will the lofty and melancholy 
imagination betake itself ? The land of dreams, strange 
dreams swarming with deep thoi^hts, sad contemplation 
of human destiny, a vague notion of the great enigma, 
groping reflection, which in the dimness of the roi^ 
woodcuts, amidst obscure emblems and fantastic figures, 
tries to seize upon truth and justice. There was no 
need to search so far ; Duxer had grasped them at the 
first effort If there is any decency in the world, it is 
in the Madonnas which are constantly springing to life 
under his pencil He did not b^n, like Eaphael, by 
mftViTig them nude; the most licentious hand would 
not venture to disturb one stiff fold of their robes ; with 
an infant in their arms, they think but of him, and 
will never think of anybody else but bim ; not only are 
they innocent, but they are virtuous. The good German 
housewife, for ever shut up, voluntarily and naturally, 
wiUiin her domestic duties and contentment, breathes 
out in all the fundamental sincerity, the seriousness, 
the unassailable loyalty of their attitudes and looks. He 
has done more ; with this peaceful virtue he has painted 
a militant virtue. There at last is the genuine Christ, 
the man crucified, lean and fieshless through his agony, 
whose blood trickles minute by minute, in rarer drops, 
as the feebler and feebler pulsations give warning of the 
last throe of a dying life. We do not find here, as in 
the Italian masters a sight to charm the eyes, a mere 
flow of drapery, a disposition of groups. The heart, 
the very heart is wounded by this sight : it is the just 
man oppressed, who is dying because the world hates 

152 THE RENAISSANCE. book u. 

justice. The mighty, the men of the age, are there, 
indiflFerent, full of irony : a plumed knight, a big-bellied 
bui^omaster, who, with hands folded behind his back, 
looks on, Villfl an hour. But the rest weep ; above the 
fainting women, angels full of anguish catch in their 
vessels the holy blood as it trickles down, and the stars 
of heaven veil their face not to behold so tremendous 
an outrage. Other outrages will also be represented ; 
tortures manifold, and the true martyrs beside the true 
Christ, resigned, silent, with the sweet expression of the 
earliest believers. They are bound to an old tree, and 
the executioner tears them with his iron pointed lash. 
A bishop with clasped hands is praying, lying down, 
whilst an auger is being screwed into his eye. Above 
amid the interlacing trees and gnarled roots, a band of 
men and women, climb imder the lash the breast of a 
hill, and they are hurled from the crest at the lance's 
point into the abyss ; here and there roll heads, lifeless 
bodies ; and by the side of those who are being decapi- 
tated, the swollen corpses, impaled, await the croak- 
ing ravens. All these sufferings must be undergone for 
the confession of faith and the establishment of justice. 
But above there is a guardian, an avenger, an all-power- 
ful Judge, whose day shall come. This day has come, 
and the piercing rays of the last sun already flash, 
like a handful of darts, across the darkness of the age. 
High up in the heavens appears the angel in his shin- 
ing robe, leading the ungovernable horsemen, the flashing 
swords, the inevitable arrows of the avengers, who are to 
trample upon and punish the earth ; mankind falls down 
beneath their charge, and already the jaw of the infer- 
nal monster grinds the head of the wicked prelates. 
This is the popular poem of conscience, and from the 


days of the apostles, man has not had a more snblime 
and complete conception.' 

For conscience, like other things, has its poem ; by 
a natural invasion the all-powerful idea of justice over- 
floTS from the soul, covers heaven, and enthrones there 
a new deity. A formidable deity, ^o is scarcely like 
the calm intelligence 'which serves philosophers to 
explain the order of things ; nor to that tolerant deity, 
a kind of constitutional king, whom Voltaire discovered 
at the end of a chain of argument, whom B<5ranger 
sings of as of a comrade, and whom he salutes " sans 
loi demander rien." It is the just Judge, sinless and 
stem, who demands of man a strict account of his 
visible actions and of all his invisible feelings, who 
tolerates no foi^etfnlness, no dejection, no failing, before 
whom every approach to weakness or error is an 
ontiage and a treason. What is our justice before this 
strict justice ? People lived in peace in the times of 
ignorance ; at most, when they felt themselves guilty, 
they went for absolution to a priest ; all was ended by 
their buying a tag indulgence; there was a tariff, aa 
there stiU is; Tetzel the Dominican declares that all 
sins are blotted out " as soon as the money chinks in 
the box." Whatever be the crime, there is a quit* 
tance; even "si Dei matrem violavisset," he might go 
home clean and sure of heaven. Unfortunately the 
vendors of pardons did not know that all was changed, 
and tiiat the intellect was become manly, no longer gab- 
bling words mechanically like a catechism, but probing 
them anxiously like a truth. In the universal Renais- 
sance, and in tJie mighty growth of all human ideas, 

' 8m ft collectioii of Albert Darer'E wood-c&rrings. Remark the 
iCMmbknM of hia Apoealyft to Lnther'B Tah!a Talk. 

154 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

the Gennan idea of duty blooms like the rest. Now, 
when we speak of justice, it is no longer a lifeless 
phrase which we repeat, but a living idea which we 
produce ; man sees the object which it represents, and 
feels the emotion which summons it up ; he no longer 
receives, but he creates it; it is his work and his 
tyrant ; he makes it, and submits to it " These words 
jiistvs and justitia Dei," says Luther, " were a thunder 
to my conscience. I shuddered to hear them ; I told 
myself, if God is just. He will punish me." ^ For as 
soon as the conscience discovers again the idea of the 
perfect model, ^ the smallest failings appeared to be 
crimes, and man, condemned by his own scruples, fell 
prostrate, and, " as it were, swallowed up " with horror. 
" I, who lived the life of a spotless monk," says Luther, 
" yet felt within me the troubled conscience of a sinner, 
without managing to assure myself as to the satisfaction 

^ Calvin, the logician of the Refonnation, well explains the depend- 
ence of all the Protestant ideas in his Institutes of Uu Christian Bdigion, 
i. (1.) The idea of the perfect God, the stem Judge. (2.) The alann 
of conscience. (S.) The impotence and corruption of nature. (4.) The 
advent of free grace. (5.) The rejection of rites and ceremonies. 

' '* In the measure in which pride is rooted within us, it always 
appears to us as though we w^ere just and whole, good and holy ; nnless 
we are convinced by manifest arguments of our injustice, uncleanness, 
folly, and impurity. For we are not convinced of it if we turn our eyes 
to our own persons merely, and if we do not think also of God, who is 
the only rule by which we must shape and regulate this judgment. 
. . . And then that which had a fair appearance of virtue will be found 
to be nothing but weakness. 

** This 18 the source of that horror and wonder by which the Scriptures 
tell us the saints were afflicted and cast down, when and as often as they 
felt the presence of God. For we see those who were as it might be far 
from God, and who were confident and went about with head erect, as 
soon as He displayed His glory to them, they were shaken and terrified, 
so much so that they were overwhelmed, nay swaUowed up in the horror 
of death, and that they fainted away." — Calvin's Institutes, L 


which I owed to God. . . . Then I said to myself: 
Am I then the only one who ought to be sad in my 
spirit? . . . Oh, what horrible spectres and figures I 
used to see ! " Thus alarmed, conscience believes that 
the terrible day is at hand. " The end of the world is 
near. . . . Our children will see it; perchance we 
ourselyes." Once in this mood he had terrible dreams 
for six months at a time. Like the Christians of the 
Apocalypse, he fixes the momicnt when the world will 
be destroyed: it will come at Easter, or at the 
conversion of Scdnt PauL One theologian, his friend, 
thought of giving aU his goods to the poor; "but 
would they receive it ? " he said. " To-morrow night 
we shall be seated in heaven." Under such anguish 
the body gives way. For fourteen days Luther was in 
such a condition, that he could neither drink, eat, nor 
sleep. " Day and night," his eyes fixed on a text of 
Saint Paul, he saw the Judge, and His inevitable hand. 
Such is the tragedy which is enacted in all Protestant 
souls — ^the eternal tragedy of conscience ; and its issue 
is a new religion. 

For nature alone and unassisted cannot rise from 
this abyss. " By itself it is so corrupted, that it does 
not feel the desire for heavenly things. . . . There is 
in it before God nothing but lust" Good intentions 
cannot spring fix)m it. "For, terrified by the vision 
of his sin, man could not resolve to do good, troubled 
and anxious as he is; on the contrary, dejected and 
crushed by the weight of his sin, he falls into despair 
and hatred of God, as it was with Cain, Saul, Judas ;" 
80 that, abandoned to himself, he can find nothing 
within him but the rage and the dejection of a despair- 
ing wretch or a deviL In vain he might try to redeem 

156 THE RENAISSANCK book n. 

himself by good works : our good deeds are not pure ; 
even though pure, they do not wipe out the stain of 
previous sins, and moreover they do not take away 
the original corruption of the heart ; they are only 
boughs and blossoms, the inherited poison is in the sap. 
Man must descend to the heart, underneath literal 
obedience and legal rule ; from the kingdom of law he 
must penetrate into that of grace ; from forced righte- 
ousness to spontaneous generosity; beneath his origi- 
nal nature, which led him to selfishness and earthly 
things, a second nature must be developed, leading 
him to sacrifice and heavenly thinga Neither my 
works, nor my justice, nor the works or justice of any 
creature or erf aU creatures, could work in me this 
wonderful change. One alone can do it, the pure God, 
the J\ist Victim, the Saviour, the Eedeemer, Jesus, my 
Christ, by imputing to me His justice, by pouring upon 
me His merits, by drowning my sin under His sacrifica 
The world is a "mass of perdition,"^ predestined to 
helL Lord Jesus, draw me back, select me from this 
mass. I have no claim to it ; there is nothing in me 
that is not abominable; this very prayer is inspired 
and formed within me by Thee. But I weep, and my 
breast heaves, and my heart is broken. Lord, let me 
feel myself redeemed, pardoned, Thy elect one. Thy 
faithful one ; give me grace, and give me faith ! 
" Then," says Luther, " I felt myself bom anew, and it 
seemed that I was entering the open gates of heaven." 
What remains to be done after this renovation of the 
heart ? Nothing : aU religion is in that : the rest must 
be reduced or suppressed; it is a personal affair, an 
inward dialogue between God and man, where there are 

^ Saint Aogostine. 


only two things at work, — the very word of God as it 
is transmitted by Scripture, and the emotions of the 
heart of man, as the word of God excites and maintains 
them.^ Let us do away with the rites that appeal to 
the senses, wherewith men wished to replace this inter- 
course between the invisible soul and the visible 
judge, — mortifications, fasts, corporeal penance. Lent, 
vows of chastity and poverty, rosaries, indulgences; 
rites serve only to smother living piety imdemeath* 
mechanical works. Away with the mediators by which 
men have attempted to impede the direct intercourse 
between God and man, — namely, saints, the Virgin, the 
Pope, the priest ; whosoever adores or obeys them is an 
idolater. Neither saints nor Virgin can convert or save 
us; God alone by His Christ can convert and save. 
Neither Pope nor priest can fix our faith or forgive our 
sins ; God alone instructs us by His word, and absolves 
us by His pardon. No more pilgrimages or relics ; no 
more traditions or auricular confessions. A new church 
appears, and therewith a new worship; ministers of 
religion change their tone, the worship of God its form ; 
the authority of the clergy is diminished, and the pomp 
of services is reduced : they are reduced and diminished 
the more, because the primitive idea of the new 

* Melancthon, preface to Luther' a Works : " It is clear that the 
works of Thomas, Scotus, and the like, are utterly silent about the 
element of justification by faith, and contain many errors concerning the 
most important questions relating to the church. It is clear that the 
discourses of the monks in their churches almost throughout the world 
w«re either fables about purgatory and the saints or else some kind of 
dogma of law or discipline, without a word of the gospel concerning 
Christ, or else were rain trifles about distinctions in the matter of food, 
about feasts, and other human traditions. . . . The gospel is pure, 
incorruptible, and not diluted with Gentile opinions." See also Fox, 
Ads amd Monuments^ 8 toIs., ed. Townsend, 1848, ii. 42. 

158 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

theology is more absorbing ; so much so, that in certain 
sects they have disappeared altogether. The priest 
descends from the lofty position in which the right of 
foigiving sins and of regulating faith had raised him 
over the heads of the laity ; he returns to civil society, 
marries like the rest, aims to be once more an equal, is 
merely a more gleamed and pious man than others, 
chosen by themselves and their adviser. The church 
becomes a temple, void of images, decorations, ceremonies 
sometimes altogether bare; a simple meeting-house, 
where, between whitewashed waUs, from a plain pulpit, 
a man in a black gown speaks without gesticulations, 
reads a passage from the Bible, begins a hymn, which 
the congregation takes up. There is another place of 
prayer, as Uttle adorned and not less venerated, the 
domestic hearth, where every night the father of the 
family, before his servants and his children, prays aloud 
and reads the Scriptures. An austere and free religion, 
pui^ged from sensuaUsm and obedience, inward and 
personal, which, set on foot by the awakening of the 
conscience, could only be established among races in 
which each man found within his nature the conviction 
that he alone is responsible for his actions, and always 
boimd to the observance of his duty. 


It must be admitted that the Eeformation entered 
England by a side door ; but it is enough that it came 
in, whatever the manner : for great revolutions are not 
introduced by court intrigues and official cleverness, but 
by social conditions and popular instincts. When five 
millions of men are converted, it is because five millions 



of men wish to be converted. Let ub therefore leave 
on one aide the intrigues in high places, the scruplea 
and passions of Henry VIII.,' the pliability and 
plaofiibility of Cranmer, the vacillations and basenesses 
of Parliament, the oscillatiou and tardiness of the 
Beformation, b^>m, then arrested, then pushed forward, 
tiien suddenly, violently pushed back, then spread over 
the whole nation, and hedged in by a legal establish- 
ment, built up from discordant materials, but yet solid 
and durable. Every great change has its root in the 
soul, and we have only to look close into this deep soil 
to discover the national inclinations and the secular 
irritations from which Protestantism has issued. 

A hundred and fifty years before, it liad been on the 
point of bursting forth; Wycliff had appeared, the 
Lollards had sprung up, the Bible had been translated ; 
the Commons had proposed the confiscation of all ecclesi- 
astical property ; then mider the pressure of the Church, 
royalty and aristocracy combined, the growing Reforma- 
tion being crushed, disappeared underground, only to 
reappear at distant intervals by the sufferings of its 
martyrs. The bishops bad received the right of imprison- 
ii^ without trial laymen suspected of heresy ; they had 
burned Lord Cobham aHve; the kings chose their 
ministers from the episcopal bench ; settled in authority 
and pomp, they had made the nobility and people bend 
onder the secular sword which bad been entrusted to 
them, and iu their hands the stem network of law, which 
from the Conquest had compressed the nation in its iron 
meshes, had become still more stringent and more oSen- 
sive. Venial acts had been construed into crimes, and the 

' St» Fronde, Eiitory of Englaitd, L-tl The coDduot of Henry 
Tin. U then presented in « new light 

160 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

judicial repression, extended to sins as well as to crimes, 
had changed the police into an inquisition. '' * Offences 
against chastity/ 'heresy/ or 'matter sounding there- 
unto/ 'witchcraft/ 'drunkenness/ 'scjuidal/ 'defa- 
mation/ ' impatient words/ ' broken promises/ * un- 
truth/ ' absence from church/ ' speaking evil of saints/ 
'nonpayment of offerings/ 'complaints against the 
constitutions of the courts themselves ;' " ^ aU these 
transgressions, imputed or suspected, brought folk before 
the ecclesiastical tribunals, at enormous expense, with 
long delays, from great distances, imder a captious 
procedure, resulting in heavy fines, strict imprisonments, 
humiliating abjurations, public penances, and the 
menace, often fulfilled, of torture and the stake. Judge 
from a single fact ; the Earl of Surrey, a relative of the 
king, was accused before one of these tribunals of 
having neglected a fast Imagine, if you can, the 
minute and incessant oppressiveness of such a code ; how 
far the whole of human life, visible actions and invisible 
thoughts, was surroimded and held down by it ; how 
by enforced accusations it penetrated to every hearth 
and into every conscience ; with what shamelessness it 
was transformed into a vehicle for extortions; what 
secret anger it excited in these townsfolk, these peasants, 
obliged sometimes to travel sixty miles and back to 
leave in one or other of the numberless talons of the 
law ^ a part of their savings, sometimes their whole sub- 
stance and that of their children. A man b^ins to 
think when he is thus down-trodden ; he asks himself 
quietly if it is really by divine dispensation that mitred 

^ Froude, L 191. Petition of Commons. This public and aathentic 
protest shows up all the details of clerical organisation and oppression. 
> Froude, L 26 ; ii 192. 


thieves thus practise tyranny and pillage ; be looks 
more closely into their lives ; he wants to know if they 
themselves practise the r^ularity which they impose 
on othera ; and on a sudden he learns strange things. 
Cardinal Wolsey writes to the Pope, that "both the 
seculai and r^ular priests were in the habit of commit- 
ting atrocious crimes,forwbich,if not inorders, they would 
have been promptly executed ; ' and the laity were 
Bcandalised to see such persons not only not d^raded, 
but escaping with complete impunity." A priest con- 
victed of incest with the prioress of Kilboum was simply 
condemned to cany a cross in a procession, and to pay 
three shillings and fourpence ; at which rate, I fancy, 
he would renew the practice. In the preceding reign 
(Henry VII.) the gentlemen and farmers of Carnarvon- 
shire had laid a complaint accusing the clergy of 
systematically seducing their wives and daughters. 
There were brothels in London for the especial use of 
priests. As to the abuse of the confessional, read in 
the original the familiarities to which it opened the 
door,* The bishops gave livings to their children whilst 
they were still young. The holy Father Prior of 
Maiden Bradley hath but six children, and but one 
dan^ter married yet of the goods of the monasteiy ; 
truatii^ shortly to marry the rest. In the convents 
the monks used to drink after supper till ten or twelve 
next morning, and came to matins drunk. They played 
cards or dice. Some came to service in the afternoons, 
and only then for fear of corporal punishments. The 
royal "visitors" found concubines in the secret apart- 

> In Uay 1S28. Fronde, I IS 4. 

* Hal^ Criminal Cbuwf. Sapprtaiim of Vie Monaattria, Camden 
Sac PnUicatioiu. Fronde, i. 194-201. 

TOU n. M 


intuits of the abbots. At the nimneiy of Sion, the con- 
foHMors seduced the duds aDd absolved them at the same 
time. There were coDveDts, Burnet tells us, where all 
the recluses were fouud pregnaDt About " two-thirds" 
of the Euglish mouks lived in such sort, that " when 
tlieir euonuities were first read in the Parliament House, 
there was no tiling but ' down with them !' "^ What a 
spectacle for a nation iD whom reasoD and conscience 
were awakening ! Long before the great outburst, public 
wrath muttered ominously, and was accumulating for a 
revolt ; priests were yelled at in the streets or " thrown 
into the kennel ;" women would not " receive the sacra- 
ment from hands which they thought polluted."^ When 
the apparitor of the ecclesiastical courts came to serve 
a process, he was driven away with insults. " Go thy 
way thou stynkyng knave, ye are but knaves and 
brybours everych one of yoiu" A mercer broke an 
apparitor's head with his yard. " A waiter at the sign 
of the Cock " said " that the sight of a priest did make 
him sick, and that he would go sixty miles to indict a 
priest" Bishop Fitz-James wrote to Wolsey, that the 
juries in London were " so maliciously set m favarem 
Juvrdicft pra vital is, that they will cast and condenm any 
clerk, though he were as innocent as AbeL" ^ Wolsey 
himself spoke to the Pope of the "dangerous spirit" 
which was spread abroad among the people, and 
planned a liefonnation. "WHien Henry VIIL laid the 
axe to the tree, and slowly, with mistrust, struck a blow, 
then a second lopping off the branches, there were a 

* liiitimor's .SVr ;/}/>«,'?. 

^ They ottl led tlnnn **horsijnpresU3f" **horsonf'' or** tchorwn knaves.*' 
Halo, p. 99 ; quoUnl hy Froude, L 199. 
» Froude, l 101 (1514). 


thousand, nay, a hundred thousand hearts which 
approved of it, and would themselves have struck the 

Consider the internal state of a diocese, that of Lincoln 
for instance,^ at this period, about 1521, and judge by 
this example of the manner in which the ecclesiastical 
machinery works throughout the whole of England, 
multiplying martyrs, hatreds, and conversions. Bishop 
Longland summons the relatives of the accused, brothers, 
women and children, and administers the oath ; as they 
have already been prosecuted and have abjured, they 
must make oath, or they are relapsed, and the fagots 
await them. Then they denounce their kinsman and 
themselves. One has taught the other in English the 
Epistle of Saint James. This man, having forgotten 
several words of the Fater and Credo in Latin, can only 
repeat them in English. A woman turned her face 
from the cross which was carried about on Easter morning. 
Several at church, especially at the moment of the 
elevation, would not say their prayers, and remained 
seated "dumb as beasts." Three men, including a 
carpenter, passed a night together reading a book of 
the Scriptures. A pregnant woman went to mass not 
fasting. A brazier denied the Real Presence. A brick- 
maker kept the Apocalypse in his possession. A 
thresher said, as he pointed to his work, that he 
was going to make God come out of his straw. Others 
spoke lightly of pilgrimage, or of the Pope, or of relics, 
or of confession. And then fifty of them were con- 
demned the same year to abjure, to promise to denoimce 
each other, and to do penance all their lives, on pain 
of being burnt, as relapsed heretics. They were shut 

^ Fox, Acts and Jdonuments, iv. 221. 

164 THE RENAISSAI^CR book n. 

up in different " monasteries ; " there they were to be 
maintained by alms, and to work for their support; 
they were to appear with a fagot on their shoulders at 
market, and in the procession on Sunday. Then in a 
general procession, then at the punishment of a heretic; 
" they were to fast on bread and ale only every Friday 
during their life, and every even of Corpus Christy on 
bread and water, and carry a visible mark on their cheek." 
Beyond that, six were burnt alive, and the children of 
one, John Scrivener, were obliged themselves to set 
fire to their father's wood pile. Do you think that a 
man, burnt or shut up, was altogether done with ? 
He is silenced, I admit, or he is hidden; but long 
memories and bitter resentments endure under a forced 
silence. People saw^ their companion, relation, brother, 
boimd by an iron chain, with clasped hands, praying 
amid the smoke, whilst the flame blackened his skin 
and destroyed his flesh. Such sights are not forgotten ; 
the last words uttered on the fagot, the last appeals to 
God and Christ, remain in their hearts all-powerful 
and ineffaceable. They carry them about with them, and 
silently ponder over them in the fields, at their labour, 
when they think themselves alone ; and then, darkly, 
passionately, their brains work. For, beyond this uni- 
versal sympathy wliich gathers mankind about the 
oppressed, there is the working of the religious senti- 
ment The crisis of conscience has begim which is 
natural to this race ; they meditate on their salvation, 
they are alarmed at their condition : terrified at the 
judgments of God, they ask themselves whether, living 

^ See, passim^ the prints of Fox. All the details which follow are 
from biographies. See those of Cromwell, by Carlyle, of Fox the 
Quaker, of Bunyan, and the trials reported at length by Fox. 



under imposed obedience and ceremonies, they do not 
become culpable, and merit damuatioo. Can this terror 
be stifled by prisons and torture 7 Fear against fear, the 
only question is, which is the strongest ! They will soon 
know it : for the peculiarity of these inward amcieties 
is that they grow beneath consti»int and oppression ; 
as a welling spring which we vaiuly try to stamp oat 
onder stones, they bubble and leap up and swell, until 
their surplus overflows, disjointing or bursting asunder 
the r^ular masonry under which men endeavoured to 
bury them. In the solitude of the fields, or during 
the long winter nights, men dream ; soon they fear, and 
become gloomy. On Sunday at church, obliged to 
cross themselves, to kneel before the cross, to receive 
the host, they shudder, and think it a mortal sin. 
They cease to talk to their Mends, remain for hours 
with bowed heads, sorrowful ; at night their wives hear 
them sigh ; unable to sleep they rise from their beds. 
Picture such a wan face, full of anguish, nourishing 
under its sternness and calmness a secret ardour : it is 
still to be found in England in the poor shabby 
dissenter, who, Sible in hand, stands up suddenly to 
preach at a street corner ; in those long-faced men who, 
after the service, not having had enough of prayers, sing a 
hymn in the street. The sombre imagination has started, 
like a woman in labour, and its conception swells day 
by day, tearing him who contains it. Through the 
long muddy winter, the howling of the wind sighii^ 
among the ill-fitting rafters, the melancholy of the 
sky, continually flooded with rain or covered with 
clouds, add to the gloom of the lugubrious dream. 
Thenceforth man has made up his mind ; he will be 
saved at all costs. At the peril of bis life, he obtains 
one of tiie hooka which teach the way of salvation. 

166 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

WyoliflTs Wicket Gate, The Obedience of a Christian, or 
aimietimes Luther's Revelation of Antichrist, but above 
all some portion of the word of God, which Tyndale 
had just translated. One man hid his books in a 
hollow tree ; another learned by heart an epistle or a 
gospel, so as to be able to ponder it to himself even in 
the presence of his accusers. When sure of his neighbour, 
he speaks with him in private ; and peasant talking to 
peasant, labourer to labourer — you know what the 
effect will be. It was the yeomen's sons, as Latimer 
said, who more than all others maintained the faith of 
Christ in England ; ^ and it was with the yeomen's 
sons that Cromwell afterwards reaped his Puritan 
victories. When such words are whispered through a 
nation, all official voices clamour in vain : the nation 
has found its poem, it stops its ears to the troublesome 
would-be distractors, and presently sings it out with a 
full voice and from a full heart 

But the contagion had even reached the men in 
office, and Henry VIII. at last permitted the English 
Bible to be published. ^ England had her book. 
Every one, says Strype, who could buy this book either 
read it assiduously, or had it read to him by others, 
and many well advanced in years learned to read with 
the same object. On Sunday the poor folk gathered 
at the ])ottom of the churches to hear it read. Maldon, 
a young man, afterwards related that he had clubbed 
his savings with an apprentice to buy a New Testament, 
and that for fear of his father, they had hidden it in 
their straw mattress. In vain the king in his pro- 

* Froude, ii. 83 : " The bishops said in 1529, * In the crime of heresy * 
thanked be God, there hath no notable person fallen in our time. ' " 
^ In 1586. Strype*8 Memorials, appendix. Froude, iiL ch. 12. 


clamation had ordered ^ople not to rest too much 
upon their own senae, ideaa, or opinions ; not to reason 
puhlicly about it in the public taverns and alehouses, 
but to have recourse to learned and authorised men ; 
the seed sprouted, and they chose rather to take God's 
word in the matter than men's. Maldon declared to 
his mother that he would not kneel to the crucifix 
any longer, and his father in a r^e beat him severely, 
and was ready to hang him. The preface itself invited 
men to independent study, saying that " the Bishop of 
Borne has studied long to keep the Bible from the 
people, and specially from princes, lest they should find 
out his tricks and his falsehoods ; . . . knowing well 
enough, that if the clear sun of God's word came over 
the heat of the day, it would drive away the foul mist 
of his devilish doctrines." ^ Even on the admission, 
then, of official voices, they had there the pure and the 
whole truth, not merely speculative but moral truth, 
without wMch we cannot live worthily or be saved. 
Tyndale, the translator, says : 

" The right waye (yea and the onely waje) to understand the 
Scriptare unto salvatioD, is that we emestlye and above all 
thynge Berche for the profession of our baptisme or covenauntes 
made betwene God and ub. As for an example. Christe saytb, 
Mat. v., Happy are the mercyfiill, for they shall obtayne mercye. 
Lo, here Ood hath made a coveuaunt vyth us, to be mercyfull 
unto U8, yf we wyli be mercyfull one to another." 

What an expression ! and with what ardour men 
pricked by the ceaseless reproaches of a scrupulous 
conscience, and the presentiment of the dark future, 
will devote on these pages the whole attention of eyes 
and heart! 

1 CoTerdale. Fronde, iii. 31. 

168 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

I have before me one of these great old folios/ in 
black letter, in which the pages, worn by homy fingers 
have been patched together, in which an old engraving 
figures forth to the poor folk the deeds and menaces of 
the God of Israel, in which the preface and table of 
contents point out to simple people the moral which is 
to be dra\^'n from each tragic history, and the applica- 
tion wliich is to be made of each venerable precept. 
Hence have sprung much of the English language, and 
half of the English manners ; to this day the country is 
bibliwd ; ' it was these big books which had transformed 
Shaksi>eare's England. To understand this great change, 
try to picture these yeomen, these shopkeepers, who in 
the evening placed this Bible on their table, and bare- 
headed, with veneration, heard or read one of its chap- 
ters. Think that they have no other books, that theirs 
was a virgin mind, that every impression would make 
a furrow, that the monotony of mechanical existence 
rendered them entirely open to new emotions, that they 
opened this book not for amusement, but to discover 
in it their doom of life and death ; in brief, that the 
sombre and impassioned imagination of the race raised 
them to the level of the grandeurs and terrors which 
were to pass before their eyes. Tyndale, the translator, 
'\^Tote with such sentiments, condemned, himted, in 
concealment, his mind full of the idea of a speedy 
death, and of the great God for whom at last he 
mounted the funeral p}Te ; and the spectators who had 
seen the remorse of Macbeth^ and the murders of 

^ 1549. Tyndalo's translation. 

* An expression of Stendhal's ; it was his general impression. 

• The time of wliiuh M. Taiue speaks, and the translation of Tyndale 
precede by at least fifty years the appearance of Macbeth (1606). Shak- 
speare's audience read the present authorised translation. — Ta. 


Shakapeare can listen to the despair of David, and the 
massacres accumulated in the books of Judges and Kings. 
The short Hebrew verae-style took bold upon them by 
its UDCTiltdvat«d austerity. They have no need, like the 
French, to have the ideas developed, explained in fine 
clear language, to be modified and connected.* The 
serious and pulsating tone shakes tbem at once ; they 
understand it with the imagination and the heart ; they 
are not, like Frenchmen, enslaved to logical regularity ; 
and the old text, so free, so lofty and terrible, can retain 
in their language its wildness and its majesty. More 
than any people in Europe, by their inner conceutra- 
tion and rigidity, they realise the Semitic conception of 
the solitary and almighty God ; a strange conception, 
which we, with all our critical methods, have hardly 
reconstructed within ourselves at the present day. For 
the Jew, for the powerful minds who wrote the Penta- 
teuch,* for the prophets and authors of the Psalms, life 
as we conceive it, was secluded from living things, 
plants, animals, finnament, sensible objects, to be carried 
and concentrated entirely in the one Being of whom 
they are the work and the puppets. Earth is the foot- 
stool of this great God, lieaven is His garment. He is 
in the world, amongst His creatures, as an Oriental king 
in his tent, amidst his arms and his carpets. If you 
enter this tent, all vanishes before the absorbing idea of 
the master ; you see but Iijth ; nothing has an individ- 
oal and independent existence : these arms are but 
made for his hands, these carpets for his foot ; you im- 
agine tbem only as spread for him and trodden by him. 

' 8m Lemaistre de Sacy'a Frencli translation of the Bible, so slightly 

» See Eirald, OaehiAU da VoOCi Irratt, his apostrophe to the third 
writer of the Pentateuch, Erhabmer QtM, etc 

170 THE RENAISSAI^CK book n. 

The awe-inspiring face and the menacing voice of the 
irresistible lord appear behind his instruments. And 
in a similar manner, for the Jew, nature and men are 
nothing of themselves ; they are for the service of Grod ; 
they have no other reason for existence ; no other use ; 
they vanish before the vast and solitary Being who 
extended and set high as a mountain before human 
thought, occupies and covers in Himself the whole 
horizon. Vainly we attempt, we seed of the Aryan 
race, to represent to ourselves this devouring God ; we 
always leave some beauty, some interest, some part of 
free existence to nature; we but half attain to the 
Creator, with difficulty, after a chain of reasoning, like 
Voltaire and Kant; more readily we make Him into 
an architect ; we naturally believe in natural laws ; we 
know that the order of the world is fixed ; we do not 
crush tilings and their relations under the burden of 
an arbitrary sovereignty ; we do not grasp the sublime 
sentiment of Job, who sees the world trembling and 
swallowed up at the touch of the strong hand ; we can- 
not endure the intense emotion or repeat the marvellous 
accent of the psalms, in which, amid the silence of beings 
reduced to atoms, nothing remains but the heart of man 
speaking to the eternal Lord. These Englishmen, in 
the anguish of a troubled conscience, and the oblivion 
of sensible nature, renew it in part. If the strong and 
harsh cheer of the Arab, which breaks forth like the 
blast of a trumpet at the sight of the rising sun and of 
the bare solitudes, ^ if the mental trances, the short 
visions of a luminous and grand landscape, if the Semitic 
colouring are wanting, at least the seriousness and 

^ See Ps. civ. in Luther's admirable translation and in the English 


simplicity have remained ; and the Hebraic God brought 
into the modem conscience, is no less a sovereign in 
this narrow precinct than in the deserts and mountains 
from which He sprang. His image is reduced, but His 
authority is entire ; if He is less poetical, He is more 
moral Men read with awe and trembling the history 
of His Works, the tables of His law, the archives of 
His vengeance, the proclamation of His promises and 
menaces; they are filled with them. Never has a 
people been seen so deeply imbued by a foreign book, 
has let it penetrate so far into its manners and writ- 
ings, its imagination and language. Thenceforth they 
have found their King, and will follow Him ; no word, 
lay or ecclesiastic, shall prevail over His word ; they 
have submitted their conduct to Him, they will give 
body and life for Him; and if need be, a day will 
come when, out of fidelity to Him, they will overthrow 
the Stata 

It is not enough to hear this King, they must answer 
Him ; and religion is not complete until the prayer of 
the people is added to the revelation of God. In 1548, 
at last, England received her prayer-book^ from the 
hands of Cranmer, Peter Martyr, Bernard Ochin, Me- 
lanchthon ; the chief and most ardent reformers of 
Europe were invited to compose a body of doctrines 
conformable to Scripture, and to express a body of 
sentiments conformable to the true Christian faith. This 
prayer-book is an admirable book, in which the full 
spirit of the Reformation breathes out, where, beside 
the moving tenderness of the gospel, and the manly 

1 The first Priniep of note was in 1545 ; Froude, v. 141. The 
Prayer-book underwent seyeral changes in 1552, others under Elizabeth, 
and a few, laaily, at the Restoration. 

172 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

accents of the Bible, throb the profoimd emotion, the 
grave eloquence, the noble-mindedness, the restrained 
enthusiasm of the heroic and poetic souls who had 
re-discovered Christianitv, and had passed near the fire 
of martyrdouL 

" Almighty and most merciful Father ; We have erred, and 
strayed from Thy waja like lost sheep. We have followed too 
much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have 
offended against Thy holy laws. We have left midone those 
things which we ought to have done ; And we have done those 
things which we ought not to have done ; And there is no health 
in us. But Thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable 
offenders. Spare Thou them, O God, which confess their faults. 
Restore Thou them that are penitent ; According to Thy promises 
declared unto mankind in Christ Jesu our LonL And grant, 
most merciful Father, for His sake ; That we may hereafter 
live a godly, righteous, and sober life." 

** Almighty and everlasting Crod, who hatest nothing that 
Thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins 'of all them that are 
penitent ; Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that 
we worthily lamenting our sins, and acknowledging our wretched- 
ness, may obtain of Thee, the God of all merey, perfect remission 
and forgiveness." 

Tlie same idea of sin, repentance, and moral renova- 
tion continually recurs ; the master-thought is always 
tliat of the heart humbled before invisible justice, and 
only imploring His grace in order to obtain His relief. 
Such a state of mind ennobles man, and introduces a 
sort of impassioned gravity in all the important actions 
of his life. Listen to the liturgy of the deathbed, of 
baptism, of marriage ; the latter first : 

" Wilt thou have this woman to be thy wedded wife, to live 
together after Grod's ordinance, in the holy state of Matrimony f 


Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honour, and keep her in sickness 
and in health ; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her, 
80 long as ye both shall live V* 

These are gemiine, honest, and conscientious words. 
No mystic languor, here or elsewhere. This religion is 
not made for women who dream, yearn, and sigh, but 
for men who examine themselves, act and have confi- 
dence, confidence in some one more just than themselves. 
When a man is sick, and his flesh is weak, the priest 
comes to him, and says : 

" Dearly beloved, know this, that Almighty God is the Lord 
of life and death, and of all things to them pertaining, as youth 
strength, health, age, weakness, and sickness. Wherefore, what- 
soever your sickness is, know you certainly, that it is God*s visita- 
tion. And for what cause soever this sickness is sent unto you ; 
whether it be to try your patience for the example of others, . . . 
or else it be sent unto you to correct and amend in you whatso- 
ever doth offend the eyes of your heavenly Father ; know you 
certainly, that if you truly repent you of your sins, and bear your 
sickness patiently, trusting in God*s mercy, . . . submitting 
yourself wholly unto His will, it shall turn to your profit, and 
help you forward in the right way that leadeth unto everlasting 

A great mysterious sentiment, a sort of sublime epic, 
void of images, shows darkly amid these probings of 
the conscience ; I mean a glimpse of the divine govern- 
ment and of the invisible world, the only existences, 
the only realities, in spite of bodily appearances and 
of the brute chance, which seems to jumble all things 
together. Man sees this beyond at distant intervals, 
and raises himself out of his mire, as though he had 
suddenly breathed a pure and strengthening atmosphere. 
Such are the effects of public prayer restored to the 

174 THE RENAISSANCK book n. 

people; for this had been taken from the Latin and 
rendered into the vulgar tongue : there is a revolution 
in this very word. Doubtless routine, here as with the 
ancient missal, will gradually do its sad work ; by re- 
peating the same words, man will often do nothing but 
repeat words; his lips will move whilst his heart 
remains inert But in great anguish, in the confused 
agitations of a restless and hollow mind, at the funerals 
of his relatives, the strong words of the book will find 
him in a mood to feel ; for they are living,^ and do not 
stay in the ears like those of a dead language ; they 
enter the soul ; and as soon as the soul is stirred and 
worked upon, they take root there. If you go and hear 
these words in England itself, and if you listen to the 
deep and pulsating accent with which they are pro- 
nounced, you will see that they constitute there a 
national poem, always imderstood and always efficacious. 
On Sunday, when all business and pleasure is sus- 
pended, between the bare walls of the village church, 
where no image, no ex-^oto, no accessory worship 
distracts the eyes, the seats are fidl; the powerful 
Hebraic verses knock like the strokes of a battering- 
ram at the door of every soul ; then the liturgy unfolds 
its imposing supplications ; and at intervals the song 
of tlie congregation, combined with the organ, sustains 

* " To make use of words in a foreign language, merely with a senti- 
ment of devotion, the mind taking no fniit, could be neither pleasing 
to God, nor beneficial to man. The party that understood not the pith 
or effectualness of the talk that he made with God, might be as a harp 
or pipe, having a sound, but not understanding the noise that itself 
had made ; a Christian man was more than an instrument ; and he had 
therefore provided a determinate form of supplication in tlie English 
tongue, tliat his subjects miglit be able to pray like reasonable beings 
in their own language." — Letter of JIairy Fill, to Cranmer, Froude, 
iv. 486. 


the people's devotion. There ia nothing graver and 
more simple than this singing hj the people ; no scales, 
no elaborate melody ; it is not calculated for the gratifi- 
cation of the ear, and yet it is free from the sickly sad- 
ness, &om the ^oomy monotony which the middle-age 
has left in the chanting in Roman Catholic churches ; 
neither monkish nor pagan, it rolls like a manly yet 
Bweet melody, neither contrasting with nor obscuring the 
words which accompany it ; these words are psalms trans- 
lated into verse, yet lofty ; diluted, but not embellished. 
Everything harmonises — place, music, text, ceremony — 
to place every man, personally and without a mediator, 
in presence of a just Qod, and to form a moral poetry 
which shall sustain and develop the moral sense.' 

* 'BuhofiohaTiBbeft Funeral Oration 0/ the Countas of Siehtnimd 
(cd. 1711) ahowa to nbat practices this religion niccerded. The 
ComiteM ma the mother of Heniy VII., nod translated the Mymmre 
q^ Oolde, and The FotOu Bake of Oie Follmoinge Jena Chryst :— 

" &a for faatfnge, for age, and feebleness, aJbeit she were Dot bound 
yet thoae days that by the Church were appointed, she kept tliem dili- 
gently and serionaly, and in especial the holj Lent, throughout that she 
restrained her appetite till one meal of fish on the day ; besidea her 
ether pecaliar taats of devotion, as St. Anthony, St. Mary Magdalene, 
St. Catherine, with other ; and throughout all the year the Friday and 
BatDtday she full truly observed. As to hard clothes wearing, glie 
had her shirts uid girdles of hair, which, when alic was in health, every 
weelc she failed not certain days to wear, sometime the one, sometime the 
other, that full often her skin, as I heard say, was pierced therevrith. 

"In prayer, every day at her uprising, which commonly was not 
long after five of the clock, she began certain devotions, and so aiter 
thent, with one of her gentlewomen, the matins of our Lady ; which 
kept her to then, ahe came into her closet, where then with lier chap- 
lain ihe aaid also matins of the day ; and after that, daily heard four or 
fire masses npon her knees ; so continuing in her prayera and devotions 
onto the hour of dinner, which of the esting day was ten of the clocks, 
and vpon the festing day eleven. After dinner full truly she would go 
her slatloiu to three altars doily ; daily her dirges and commenda- 
tiona she would say, and her even songa before supper, both of the day 

176 THE RENAISSANCE. book ii. 

One detail is still needed to complete this manly reli- 
gion — ^human reason. The minister ascends the pulpit 
and speaks : he speaks coldly, I admit, with literary 
conmients and over-long demonstrations; but solidly, 
seriously, like a man who desires to con^^ince, and that 
by honest means, who addresses only the reason, and 
discourses only of justice. With Latimer and his con- 
temporaries, preaching, like religion, changes its object 
and character; like religion, it becomes popidar and 
moral, and appropriate to those who hear it, to recall 
them to their duties. Few men have deserved better 
of their fellows, in life and word, than he. He was a 
genuine Englishman, conscientious, courageous, a man 
of common sense and practical, sprung from the labour- 
ing and independent class, the very heart and sinews 
of the nation. His father, a brave yeoman, had a farm 
of about four pounds a year, on which he employed half 
a dozen men, with thirty cows which his wife milked, 
a good soldier of the king, keeping equipment for him- 
self and his horse so as to join the army if need were, 

and of our Lady, beside many other prayers and psalters of David 
throughout the year ; and at night before she went to bed, she failed 
not to resort unto her chapel, and there a large quarter of an hour to 
occupy her devotions. No marvel, though all this long time her kneel- 
ing was to her painful, and so painful that many times it caused in her 
back pain and disease. And yet nevertheless, daily, when she was in 
health, she failed not to say the crown of our lady, which, after the 
manner of Rome, containeth sixty and three aves, and at every ave, to 
make a kneeling. As for meditation, she had divers books in French, 
wherewith she would occupy herself when she was weary of prayer. 
Wherefore divers she did translate out of the French into ^glish. 
Her marvellous weeping they can bear witness of, which here before have 
heard her confession, which be divers and many, and at many seasons in 
the year, lightly every third day. Can also record the same those that were 
present at any time when she was houshylde, which was fuU nigh a dozen 
times every year, what floods of tears there issued forth of her eyes I " 


trainii^ Iiis son to use the bow, m&kii^ him. buckle on 
his breastplate, and finding a few nobles at the bottom 
of his purse wherewith to send him to school, and thence 
to the university.' Little Latimer studied eagerly, took 
his d^rees, and continued long a good Catholic, or, as 
he says, " in darckense and in the shadow of death." 
At about thirty, having often heard Silney the martyr, 
and having, moreover, studied the world and thought 
for himself, he, as he tells us, " began from that time 
forward to smell the word of God, and to forsooke the 
Schools Doctoui^, and such fooleries;" presently to 
preach, and forthwith to pass for a seditious man, very 
troublesome to those men in authority who did not act 
with justice. For this was in the first place the salient 
feature of his eloquence: he spoke to people of their 
duties, in exact terms. One day, when he preached 
before the university, the Bishop of Ely came, curious 
to hear biTn. Immediately he changed his subject, and 
drew the portrait of a perfect prelate, a portrait which 
did not tiUy well with the bishop's character ; and he 
was denounced for the act When he was made 
chaplain of Henry VIII., awe-inspiring as the king was, 
little as he was himself, he dared to write to him freely 
to bid him Btop the persecution which was set on foot, 
and to prevent the interdiction of the Bible ; verily he 
risked his life. He had done it before, he did it again ; 
like Tyndale, Knox, aU the leaders of the Keformation, 
he lived in almost ceaseless expectation of death, and 
in contemplation of the stake. Sick, liable to racking 
headaches, stomachaches, pleurisy, stone, he wrought a 
vast work, travelling, writing, preaching, delivering at 
the age of eixty-seven two sermons every Sunday, and 
I 8m vol. L p. 169, iu)t« 1. 
VOL. n. N 

178 THE RENAISSANCE. book it. 

generaUy rising at two in the morning, winter and sum- 
mer, to study. Nothing can be simpler or more effec- 
tive than his eloquence; and the reason is, that he 
never speaks for the sake of speaking, but of doing 
work His sermons, amongst others those which he 
preached before the young king Edward VI., are not, 
like those of Massillon before the youthful Louis XV., 
hung in the air, in the calm region of philosophical 
amplifications : Latimer wishes to correct, and he attacks 
actual vices, vices which he has seen, which every one 
can point at with the finger ; he too points them out, 
calls things by their name, and people too, giving facts 
and details, bravely ; and sparing nobody, sets himself 
without hesitation to denounce and reform iniquity. 
Universal as his morality is, ancient as is his text, he 
applies it to his contemporaries, to his audience, at times 
to the judges who are there " in velvet cotes," who will 
not hear the poor, who give but a dog's hearing to such 
a woman in a twelvemonth, and who leave another poor 
woman in the Fleet, refusing to accept bail ; ^ at times 
to the king's officers, whose thefts he enumerates, whom 
he sets between hell and restitution, and of whom he 
obtains, nay extorts, poimd for pound, the stolen money.^ 
From abstract iniquity he proceeds always to special 
abuse ; for it is abuse which cries out and demands, not 
a discourser, but a champion. With him theology holds 
but a secondary place ; before all, practice : the true 
offence against God in his eyes is a bad action ; the 
true service, the suppression of bad deeds. And see by 
what paths he reaches this. No grand words, no show 

^ Latimer's Seven Sermons before Edward FL, ed. Edward Arber, 
1869. Second sermon, pp. 73 and 74. 

' Latimer's Sermons. Fifth Bermon, ed. Arber, p. 147. 


of style, no exhibition of dialectics. He relates his life, 
the lives of others, giving dates, numbers, places ; he 
abounds in anecdotes, little obvious circumstances, fit 
to enter the imagination and arouse the recollections of 
each hearer. He is familiar, at times humorous, and 
always so precise, so impressed with real events and 
particularities of English life, that we might glean from 
his sennons an almost complete description of the man- 
ners of his age and country. To reprove the great, who 
appropriate common lands by their enclosures, he details 
the needs of the peasant, without the least care for con- 
ventional proprieties ; he is not working now for con- 
ventionalities, but to produce convictions : — 

" A plough land must have sheep ; yea, they must have sheep 
to dung their ground for bearing of com ; for if they have no 
sheep to help to fat the ground, they shall have but bare com 
and thin. They must have swine for their food, to make their 
veneries or bacon of : their bacon is their venison, for they shall 
now have hangum tuum, if they get any other venison ; so that 
bacon is their necessary meat to feed on, which they may not 
lack. They must have other cattle : as horses to draw their 
plough, and for carriage of things to the markets ; and kine for 
their milk and cheese, which they must live upon and pay their 
rents. These cattle must have pasture, which pasture if they 
lack, the rest must needs fail them : and pasture they cannot 
have, if the land be taken in, and enclosed from them." ^ 

Another time, to put his hearers on their guard against 
hasty judgments, he relates that, having entered the 
gaol at Cambridge to exhort the prisoners, he found a 
woman accused of having killed her child, who would 
make no confession : — 

^ Latimer's Semuma, ed. Corner 1844, 2 vols., Lad Sermon preached 
before Edward VL, i. 249. 

180 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

*' Which denying gave us occasion to search for the matter, 
and 80 we did. And at the length we found that her husband 
loved her not ; and therefore he sought means to make her out 
of the way. The matter was thus : ' a child of hers had been 
sick by the space of a year, and so decayed as it were in a 
consumption. At the length it died in harvest-time. She went 
to her neighbours and other friends to desire their help, to 
prepare the child to the burial : but there was nobody at home ; 
every man was in the field. The woman, in an heaviness and 
trouble of spirit, went, and being herself alone, prepared the 
child to the burial. Her husband coming home, not having 
great love towards her, accused her of the murder ; and so she 
was taken and brought to Cambridge. But as far forth as I 
could learn through earnest inquisition, I thought in my con- 
science the woman was not guilty, all the circumstances well 
considered. Immediately after this I was called to preach before 
the king, which was my first sermon that I made before his 
majesty, and it was done at Windsor ; when his msgesty, after 
the sermon was done, did most familiarly talk with me in the 
gallery. Now, when I saw my time, I kneeled down before his 
msgesty, opening the whole matter ; and afterwards most humbly 
desired his msgesty to pardon that woman. For I thought in 
my conscience she was not guilty ; else I would not for all the 
world sue for a murderer. The king most graciously heard my 
humble request, insomuch that I had a pardon ready for her at 
my return homeward. In the mean season that same woman 
was delivered of a child in the tower at Cambridge, whose god- 
father I was, and Mistress Cheke was godmother. But all that 
time I hid my pardon, and told her nothing of it, only exhorting 
her to confess the truth. At the length the time came when she 
looked to suffer : I came, as I was wont to do, to instruct her ; 
she made great moan to me, and most earnestly required me that 
I would find the means that she might be purified before her 
sufiering ; for she thought she should have been danmed, if she 
should sufifer without purification. ... So we travailed with 


this woman till we brought her to a good trade ; and at the 
length shewed her the king's pardon, and let her go.' 

" This tale I told you by this occasion, that though some 
women be veiy unnatural, and forget their children, yet when we 
hear anybody so report, we should not be too hasty in believing 
the tale, but rather suspend our judgments till we know the 
truth." 1 

When a man preaches thus, he is believed ; we are 
sure that he is not reciting a lesson ; we feel that he 
has seen, that he draws his moral not from books, but 
from facts ; that his counsels come from the solid basis 
whence everything ought to come,— I mean from mani- 
fold and personal experienca Many a time have I 
listened to popular orators, who address the pocket, 
and prove their talent by the money they have collected; 
it is thus that they hold forth, with circumstantial, 
recent, proximate examples, with conversational turns 
of speech, setting aside great arguments and fine 
language. Imagine the ascendency of the Scriptures 
enlarged upon in such words ; to what strata of the 
people it could descend, what a hold it had upon sailors, 
workmen, servants ! Consider, again, how the authority 
of these words is doubled by the courage, independence, 
integrity, unassailable and recognised virtue of him 
who utters them. He spoke the truth to the king, 
unmasked robbers, incurred all kind of hate, resigned 
his see rather than sign anything against his conscience; 
and at eighty years, under Mary, refusing to recant, 
after two years of prison and waiting — and what wait- 
ing I he was led to the stake. His companion, Ridley, 
slept the night before as calmly, we are told, as ever 

^ Lfttimer's Sermons, ed. Corrie, First Sermon on the LoreTs Prayer, 

182 THE RENAISSANCE. book il 

he did in his life ; and when ready to be chained to 
the post, said aloud, " heavenly Father, I give Thee 
most hearty thanks, for that Thou hast called me to be 
a professor of Thee, even unto death." Latimer in his 
turn, when they brought the lighted faggots, cried, "Be 
of good comfort. Master Ridley, and play the man : we 
shall this day light such a candle by God's grace, in 
England, as I trust shall never be put out." He then 
bathed his hands in the flames, and resigning his soul 
to God, he expired. 

He had judged rightly : it is by this supreme trial 
that a creed proves its strength and gains its adherents ; 
tortures are a sort of propaganda as well as a testimony, 
and make converts whilst they make martyrs. All the 
writings of the time, and all the commentaries which 
may be added to them, are weak compared to the actions 
which, one after the other, shone forth at that time 
from learned and unlearned, down to the most simple 
and ignorant. In tliree years, under Mary, neariy three 
hundred persons, men, women, old and young, some all 
but children, allowed themselves to be burned alive 
rather than to abjure. The all-powerful idea of God, 
and of the faith due to Him, made them resist 
all the protests of nature, and all the trembling 
of the flesh. " No one will be cro\Mied," said one of 
them, " but they who fight like men ; and he who en- 
dures to the end shall be saved." Doctor Rogers was 
burned first, in presence of his wife and ten children, 
one at the breast. He had not been told beforehand, 
and was sleeping soundly. The wife of the keeper of 
Newgate woke him, and told him that he must bum 
that day. " Then," said he, " I need not truss my points." 
In the midst of the flames he did not seem to suffer. 


" His children stood by consoling him, in such a way 
that he looked as if they were conducting him to a 
merry marriage." ^ A young man of nineteen, William 
Hunter, apprenticed to a silk-weaver, was exhorted by 
his parents to persevere to the end : — 

" In the mean time William's father and mother came to him, 
and desired heartily of God that he might continue to the end 
in that good way which he had begun : and his mother said to 
him, that she was glad that ever she was so happy to bear such 
a child, which could find in his heart to lose his life for Christ's 
name's sake. 

" Then William said to his mother, * For my little pain which 
I shall suffer, which is but a short braid, Christ hath promised 
me, mother (said he), a crown of joy : may you not be glad of 
that, mother f ' With that his mother kneeled down on her 
knees, saying, * I pray God strengthen thee, my son, to the end ; 
yea, I think thee as well-bestowed as any child that ever I 
bare.' . . . 

" Then William Hunter plucked up his gown, and stepped 
over the parlour groundsel, and went forward cheerfully ; the 
sheriff's servant taking him by one arm, and I his brother by 
another. And thus going in the way, he met with his father 
according to his dream, and he spake to his son weeping, and 
saying, * God be with thee, son William ; * and William said, 
* (Jod be with you, good father, and be of good comfort ; for I 
hope we shall meet again, when we shall be merry.' His father 
said, ' I hope so, William ; ' and so departed. So William went 
to the place where the stake stood, even according to his dream, 
where aU things were very unready. Then William took a wet 
broom-faggot, and kneeled down thereon, and read the £fty-first 

^ NoaiUes, the French (and Catholic) Ambassador. John Fox, 
History of the Acts and Monuments oftiu Churchy ed. Townsend, 1843, 
S voU., YL 612, says : "^His wife and children, being eleven in number, 
and ten able to go, and one sucking on her breast, met him by the way, 
as he went towcrda Smithfield." — Te. 

184 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

Psalm, till he came to these words, * The sacrifice of Ood is a 
contrite spirit ; a contrite and a broken heart, God, thou wilt 
not despise.' . . . 

'' Then said the sheriff, * Here is a letter from the queen. If 
thou wilt recant thou shalt live ; if not, thou shalt be burned.' 

* No,' quoth William, * I will not recant, (>od willing.' Then 
William rose and went to the stake, and stood upright to it. 
Then came one Richard Ponde, a bailiff, and made fast the chidn 
about William. 

" Then said master Brown, * Here is not wood enough to bum 
a leg of him.' Then said William, * Good people ! pray for me ; 
and make speed and despatch quickly : and pray for me while 
you see me alive, good people ! and I will pray for you likewise.' 

* Now 1 ' quoth master Brown, * pray for thee ! I will pray no 
more for thee, than I will pray for a dog.' . . . 

*^ Then was there a gentleman which said, ' I pray God have 
mercy upon his soul.' The people said, * Amen, Amen.' 

'* Immediately fire was made. Then William cast his psalter 
right into his brother's hand, who said, * William ! think on the 
holy passion of Christ, and be not afraid of death.' And William 
answered, 'I am not afraid.' Then lift ho up his hands to 
heaven, and said, * Lord, Lord, Lord, receive my spirit ; ' and, 
casting down his head again into the smothering smoke, he 
yielded up his life for the truth, sealing it with his blood to the 
praise of God." ^ 

When a passion is able thus to subdue the natural 
affections, it is able also to subdue bodily pain; all 
the ferocity of the time laboured in vain against inward 
convictions. Thomas Tomkins, a weaver of Shoreditch, 
being asked by Bonner if he could stand the fire well, 
bade him try it. "Bonner took Tomkins by the 
fingers, and held his hand directly over the flame," to 
terrify him. But "he never shrank, till the veins 

* Fox, History of the Ads, etc., vi. 727. 


shrank and the sinews burst, and the water (blood) did 
spirt in Mr. Harpsfield*s face."^ "In the Isle of 
Guernsey, a woman with child being ordered to the 
fire, was delivered in the flames, and the infant being 
taken from her, was ordered by the magistrates to be 
thrown back into the fire."^ Bishop Hooper was 
bumed three times over in a small fire of green wood. 
There was too little wood, and the wind turned aside 
the smoke. He cried out, "For God*s love, good 
people, let me have more fire." His legs and thighs 
were roasted ; one of his hands fell off before he 
expired; he endured thus three-quarters of an hour; 
before him in a box was his pardon, on condition that 
he would retract. Against long sufferings in mephitic 
prisons, against everything which might unnerve or 
seduce, these men were invincible : five died of hunger * 
at Canterbury ; they were in irons night and day, with 
no covering but their clothes, on rotten straw; yet 
there was an understanding amongst them, that the 
" cross of persecution " was a blessing from God, " an 
inestimable jewel, a sovereign antidote, weU-approved, 
to cure love of self and earthly affection." Before 
such examples the people were shaken. A woman 
wrote to Bishop Bonner, that there was not a child 
but called him Bonner the hangman, and knew on his 
fingers, as well as he knew his pater, the exact number 
of those he had bumed at the stake, or suffered to die 
of hunger in prison these nine months. " You have 
lost the hearts of twenty thousand persons who were 
inveterate Papists a year ago." The spectators encour- 
aged the martyrs, and cried out to them that their 

1 Fox, History of the Acts, etc., vi 719. 
* Neal, SisUyryo/the PuritoM, ed. Toulmin, 5 vols., 1793, i 96. 

186 THE RENAISSANCE. book il 

cause was just The Catholic envoy Renard wrote to 
Charles V. that it was said that several had desired to 
take their place at the stake, by the side of those who 
were being burned. In vain the queen had forbidden, 
on pain of death, all marks of approbation. "We 
know that they are men of God," cried one of the 
spectators ; " that is why we cannot help saying, God 
strengthen them." And all the people answered, 
"Amen, Amen." What wonder if, at the coming of 
Elizabeth, England cast in her lot with I^rotestantism ? 
The threats of the Armada urged her on still further ; 
and the Reformation became national under the pres- 
sure of foreign hostility, as it had become popular 
through the triumph of its martyrs. 


Two distinct branches receive the common sap,— 
one above, the other beneath : one respected, flourishing, 
shooting forth in the open air ; the other despised, half 
buried in the ground, trodden under foot by those who 
woidd crush it : both liWng, the Anglican as well as 
the Puritan, the one in spite of the effort made to 
destroy it, the other in spite of the care taken to 
develop it 

The court has its religion, like the country — a 
sincere and winning religion. Amid the pagan poetry 
which up to the Revolution always had the ear of the 
world, we find gradually piercing through and rising 
higher a grave and grand idea which sent its roots 
to the depth of the public mind. Many poets, 
Drayton, Davies, Cowley, Giles Fletcher, Quarles, Cra- 
shaw, wrote sacred histories, pious or moral verses, 
noble stanzas on death and the immortality of the soul, 


on the frailty of things human, *and on the supreme 
providence in which alone man finds the support of 
his weakness and the consolation of his sufferings. 
In the greatest prose writers, Bacon, Burton, Sir Thomas 
Browne, Ealeigh, 'we see spring up the fiiiits of venera- 
tion, thoughts about the obscure beyond; in short, 
faith and prayer. Several prayers written by Bacon are 
amongst the finest known ; and the courtier Ealeigh, 
whilst writing of the faU of empires, and how the 
barbarous nations had destroyed this grajid and magni- 
ficent Roman Empire, ended his book with the ideas 
and tone of a Bossuet.^ Picture Saint Paul's in 
London, and the fashionable people who used to meet 
there; the gentlemen who noisily made the rowels of 
their spurs resound on entering, looked around and 
carried on conversation during service, who swore by 
God's eyes, God's eyelids, who amongst the vaults and 
chapels showed off their beribboned shoes, their chains, 
scarves, satin doublets, velvet cloaks, their braggadocio 
manners and stage attitudes. All this was very free, 
very loose, very far from our modern decency. But 
pass over youthful bluster; take man in his great 
moments, in prison, in danger, or indeed when old age 
arrives, when he has come to judge of life ; take him, 
above all, in the country, on his estate, far from any 
town, in the church of the village where he is lord ; 
or again, when he is alone in the evening, at his table, 
listening to the prayer offered up by his chaplain, having 

* ** eloquent, just, and mightie Death ! whom none could advise, 
thou hast persuaded ; what none hath dared, thou hast done ; and whom 
all the world hath flattered, thou only hast cast out of the world and 
despised ; thou hast drawne together all the farre stretched greatnesse, 
all the pride, cmeltie, and amhition of man, and covered it all over 
with these t?ro narrow words, Hicjacct.** 

188 THE RENAISSANCR book ii. 

no books but some big folio of dramas, well dog's-eared 
by his pages, and his prayer-book and Bible ; you may 
then understand how the new religion tightens its 
hold on these imaginative and serious minds. It does 
not shock them by a narrow rigour ; it does not fetter 
the flight of their mind; it does not attempt to ex- 
tinguish the buoyant flame of their fancy ; it does not 
proscribe the beautiful : it preserves more than any 
reformed church the noble pomp of the ancient worship, 
and roUs under the domes of its cathedrals the rich 
modulations, the majestic hjumonies of its grave, organ- 
led music. It is its characteristic not to be in opposi- 
tion to the world, but, on the contrary, to draw it 
nearer to itself, by bringing itself nearer to it By its 
secular condition as well as by its external worship, it 
is embraced by and it embraces it: its head is the 
Queen, it is a part of the Constitution, it sends its 
dignitaries to the House of Lords ; it suffers its priests 
to marry ; its benefices are in the nomination of the 
great families ; its chief members are the younger sons 
of these same families : by all these channels it imbibes 
the spirit of the age. In its hands, therefore, reforma- 
tion cannot become hostile to science, to poetry, to the 
liberal ideas of the Renaissance, Nay, in the nobles 
of Elizal)eth and James I., as in the cavaliers of Charles 
I., it tolerates aitistic tastes, philosophical curiosity, 
the ways of the world, and the sentiment of the 
beautiful The alliance is so strong, that, under Crom- 
well, the ecclesiastics in a mass were dismissed for 
their king's sake, and the cavaliers died wholesale for 
the Church. The two societies mutually touch and 
are confounded together. If several poets are pious, 
several ecclesiastics are poetical, — ^Bishop Hall, Bishop 


Corbet, Wither a rector, and the preacher Donne. K 
several laymen rise to religious contemplations, several 
theologians. Hooker, John Hales, Taylor, ChUlingworth, 
set philosophy and reason by the side of dogma. Ac- 
cordingly we find a new literature arising, lofty and 
original, eloquent and moderate, jumed at the same 
time against the Puritans, who sacrifice freedom of 
intellect to the tyranny of the text, and against the 
Catholics, who sacrifice independence of criticism to 
the tyranny of tradition ; opposed equally to the 
servility of literal interpretation, and the servility 
of a prescribed interpretation. Opposed to the first 
appears the learned and excellent Hooker, one of 
the gentlest and most conciliatory of men, the most 
solid and persuasive of logicians, a comprehensive 
mind, who in every question ascends to the principles,^ 
introduces into controversy general conceptions, and 
the knowledge of human nature;^ beyond this, a 

* Hooker's Works, e<L Keble, 1836, 3 vols., The Ecclesiastical 

« Ibid. I book i 249, 258, 312 :— 

*' That which doth assign nnto each thing the kind, that which doth 
moderate the force and power, that which doth appoint the form and 
measure of working, the same we term a Law. . . . 

*• Now if nature should intermit her course, and leave altogether, 
though it were but for awhile, the observation of her own laws ; if those 
principal and mother elements of the world, whereof all things in this 
lower world are made, should lose the qualities which now they have ; 
if the frame of that heavenly arch erected over our heads should loosen 
and dissolve itself; if celestial spheres should forget their wonted 
motions, ... if the prince of the lights of heaven, which now as a 
giant doth run his unwearied course, should as it were through a 
languishing faintness, begin to stand and to rest himself : . . . what 
would become of man himself, whom these things now do all serve ? 
See we not plainly that obedience of creatures unto the law of nature is 
the atay of the whole world ? . . . 

" Between men and beasts there is no possibility of sociable com- 

190 THE RENAISSANCE. book ii. 

methodical writer, correct and always ample, worthy of 
being regarded not only as one of the fathers of the 
English Church, but as one of the founders of English 
prose. With a sustained gravity and simplicity, he 
shows the Puritans that the laws of nature, reason, and 
society, like the law of Scripture, are of divine institu- 
tion, that all are equally worthy of respect and obedi- 
ence, that we must not sacrifice the inner word, by 
which God reaches our intellect, to the outer word, by 
which God reaches our senses; that thus the civil 
constitution of the Church, and the visible ordinance 
of ceremonies, may be conformable to the will of God, 
even when they are not justified by a clear text of 
Scripture ; and that the authority of the magistrates, 
as well as the reason of man, does not exceed its rights 
in establishing certain imiformities and disciplines on 
which Scripture is silent, in order that reason may 
decide : — 

" For if the natural strength of man's wit may by experience 
and study attain unto such ripeness in the knowledge of things 

munion because the well-spring of that communion is a natural delight 
which man hath to transfuse from himself into others, and to receive from 
others into himself, especially those things wherein the excellency of his 
kind doth most consist. The chiefest instrument of human communion 
therefore is speech, because thereby we impart mutually one to another 
the conceits of our reasonable understanding. And for that cause, seeing 
beasts are not hereof capable, forasmuch as with them we can use no 
such conference, they being in degree, although above other creatures 
on earth to whom nature hath denied sense, yet lower than to be 
sociable companions of man to whom nature hath given reason ; it is 
of Adam said, that amongst the beasts * he found not for himself any 
meet companion.' Civil society doth more content the nature of man 
than any private kind of solitary living, because in society this good of 
mutual participation is so much lai*ger than otherwise. Herewith not- 
withstanding we are not satisfied, but we covet (if it might be) to have 
a kind of society and fellowship even with all mankind." 


human, that men in this respect may presume to build some- 
what upon their judgment ; what reason have we to think but 
that even in matters divine, the like wits furnished with neces- 
sary helps, exercised in Scripture with like diligence, and assisted 
with the grace of Almighty God, may grow unto so much per- 
fection of knowledge, that men shall have just cause, when any- 
thing pertinent unto faith and religion ia doubted of, the more 
willingly to incline their minds towards that which the sentence 
of so grave, wise, and learned in that faculty shall judge most 
sound. '* ^ 

This " natural light " therefore must not be despised, 
but rather used so as to augment the other, as we put 
torch to torch ; above all, employed that we may live 
in harmony with each other.^ 

" Far more comfort it were for us (so small is the joy we take 
in these strifes) to labour under the same yoke, as men that 
look for the same eternal reward of their labours, to be conjoined 
with you in bands of indissoluble love and amity, to live as if 
our persons being many, our souls were but one, rather than in 
such dismembered sort to spend our few and wretched days in a 
tedious prosecuting of wearisome contentions." 

In fact, the conclusions of the greatest theologians 
are for such harmony: abandoning an oppressive practice 
they grasp a liberal spirit. If by its political structure 
the English Church is persecuting, by its doctrinal struc- 
ture it is tolerant ; it needs the reason of the laity too 
much to refuse it liberty ; it lives in a world too culti- 
vated and thoughtful to proscribe thought and culture. 
John Hales, its most eminent doctor, declared several 

^ Eec Pol, i book ii ch. vii. 4, p. 405. 

* See the DitUogues of OcUileo. The same idea which is persecuted 
by the church at Rome is at the same time defended by the church in 
Kngland. See also £!cc Pol i. hook iiL 461-481. 

192 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

times that Tie -would renounce the Chmch of England 
to-morrow if she insisted on the doctrine that other 
Christians would be damned ; and that men believe 
other people to be damned only when they desire them 
to be so.* It was he again, a theologian, a prebendaiy, 
who advises men to trust to themselves alone in re- 
ligious matters ; to leave nothing to authori^, or 
antiquity, or the majority ; to use their own reason in 
believing, as they use "their own l^s in walking ;** to 
act and be men in mind as well as in the rest; and to 
regard as cowardly and impious the borrowing <tf 
doctrine and aloth of thought So Chillingworth, a 
notably militant and loyal mind, the most exact, the 
most penetrating, and the most convincing of con- 
troversialists, first Protestant, then Catholic, then Pro- 
testant i^ain and for ever, has the coui^e to say that 
these great changes, wrouglit in himself and by himself, 
tlirough study and research, are, of all his actions, those 
which satisfy him most He maintains that reason 
alone applied to Scripture ought to persuade men ; that 
authority lias no claim in it ; that nothing is more 
against religion than to force religion ; that the great 
principle of the Keformation is liberty of conscience ; 
and that if the doctrines of tlie different Protestant 
sects are not absolutely tnie, at least they are free from 
all impiety and from all error damnable in itself, or de- 
structive of salvation. Thus is developed a new school 
of polemics, a theology, a solid and rational apolc^tics, 
rigorous in its arguments, capable of expansion, con- 
firmed by science, and which, authorizing independence 
of personal judgment at the same time with the inter- 

' ClareDdoD. 8m the suae doctrine* in Jtmaj Tftjlor, L i bi rt jf 
of Pn^phetying, 18*7. 



veDtioo of the natural reason, leaves religion within 
reach of the world and the estahlishments of the past 
straggUng with the future. 

A writer of genius appears amongst these, a proae- 
poet, gifted with an imagination like Spenser and Shak- 
speare, — Jeremy Taylor, who, from the bent of his mind 
aa well as from circumstances, was destined to present 
the alliance of the Renaissance with the Reformation, 
and to cany into the pulpit the ornate style of the 
court A preacher at St Paul's, appreciated and 
admired by men of fashion for his youthful and fresh 
beauty and his graceful bearing, as also for his splendid 
diction ; patronised and promoted by Archbishop Laud, 
he wrote for the ting a defence of episcopacy ; became 
chaplain to the king's army ; was taken, ruined, twice 
Imprisoned by the Parliamentarians ; married a natural 
daughter of Charles I. ; then, after the Restoration, was 
loaded with honours ; became a bishop, member of the 
Privy Council, and vice-chancellor of the university of 
Dublin. In every passage of his life, fortunate or other- 
wise, private or public, we see that he is an Anglican, 
a royalist, imbued with the spirit of the cavaliers and 
conitiers, not with their vices. On the contrary, there 
was never a better or more upright man, more zealous 
in his duties, more tolerant by principle ; so that, pre- 
serving a Christian gravity and purity, he received from 
Uie Benaissance only its rich imagination, its classical 
erudition, and its liberal spirit But he had these gifts 
entire, as they existed in the most brilliant and original 
of the men of the world, in Sir Philip Sidney, Lord 
Bacon, Sir Thomas Browne, with the graces, splendours, 
refinements which are characteristic of these sensitive 
and creative geniuses, and yet with the redundancies, 
VOL n. 

194 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

singularities^ incongruities inevitable in an age when 
excess of spirit prevented the soundness of taste. like 
all these writers, like Montaigne, he was imbued with 
classic antiquity ; in the pulpit he quotes Greek and 
Latin anecdotes, passages from Seneca, verses of 
Lucretius and Euripides, and this side by side with texts 
from the Bible, from the Gospels, and the Fathers, 
Cant was not yet in vogue ; the two great sources of 
teaching. Christian and Pagan, ran side by side ; they 
were collected in the same vessel, without imagining 
that the wisdom of reason and nature could mar the 
wisdom of faith and revelation. Fancy these strange 
sermons, in which the two eruditions, Hellenic and 
Evangelic, flow together with their texts, and each text 
in its own language; in which, to prove that fathers 
are often unfortunate in their children, the author brings 
forward one after the other, Chabrias, Germanicus, 
Marcus Aurelius, Hortensius, Quintus Fabius Maximus, 
Scipia Africanus, Moses, and Samuel ; where, in the form 
of comparisons and illustrations is heaped up the spoil 
of histories, and authorities on botany, astronomy, 
zoology, which the cyclopaedias and scientific fancies at 
that time poured into the brain. Taylor will relate 
to you the history of the bears of Pannonia, which, when 
wounded, will press the iron deeper home ; or of the 
apples of Sodom, which are beautiful to the gaze, but ' 
full within of rottenness and worms ; and many others 
of the same kind. For it was a characteristic of men of 
this age and school, not to possess a mind swept, levelled, 
regulated, laid out in straight paths, like the seventeenth 
century writers in France, and like the gardens at 
Versailles, but full, and crowded with circumstantial 
facts, complete dramatic scenes, little coloured pictures. 


pellmell and badly dusted; so that, lost in confusion 
and dust, the modem spectator cries out at their 
pedantry and coarseness. Metaphors swarm one above 
the other, jumbled, blocking each other's path, as in 
Shakspeare. We think to foUow one, and a second 
begins, then a third cutting into the second, and so on, 
flower after flower, firework after fiiework, so that the 
brightness becomes misty with sparks, and the sight 
ends in a haze. On the other hand, and just by virtue 
of this same turn of mind, Taylor imagines objects, not 
vaguely and feebly, by some indistinct general concep- 
tion, but precisely, entire, as they are, with their visible 
colour, their proper form, the multitude of true and parti- 
cular details which distinguish them in their species. 
He is not acquainted with them by hearsay ; he has seen 
them. Better, he sees them now and makes them to 
be seen. Read the following extract, and say if it does 
not seem to have been copied from a hospital, or from a 
field of battle : — 

" And what can we complain of the weakness of our strengths, 
or the pressures of diseases, when we see a poor soldier stand in 
a breach almost starved with cold and hunger, and his cold apt 
to be relieved only by the heats of anger, a fever, or a fired 
musket, and his hunger slacked by a greater pain and a huge fear ? 
This man shall stand in his arms and wounds, pattens luminU 
atque 9olis, pale and faint, weary and watchful; and at night 
shall have a bullet pulled out of his flesh, and shivers from his 
bones, and endure his mouth to be sewed up from a violent rent 
to its own dimensions ; and all this for a man whom he never 
saw, or, if he did, was not noted by him ; but one that shall 
condemn him to the gallows if he runs away from all this misery." ^ 

* Jeremy Taylor's Works, ed. Eden, 1840, 10 vols., iSTo/y Dying, 
ch. iiL sec 4, § 8, p. 815. 

196 THE RENAISSANCE. book ii. 

This is the advantage of a full imagination over 
ordinary reason. It produces in a lump twenty or thirty 
ideas, and as many images, exhausting the subject which 
the other only outlines and sketches. There are a thou- 
sand circumstances and shades in every event ; and they 
are all grasped in living words like these : — 

" For 80 have I seen the httle purls of a spring sweat through 
the bottom of a bank, and intenerate the stubborn pavement, 
till it hath made it fit for the impression of a child's foot ; and 
it was despised, like the descending pearls of a misty morning, 
till it had opened its way and made a stream large enough to 
carry away the ruins of the undermined strand, and to invade the 
neighbouring gardens ; but then the despised drops were grown 
into an artificial river, and an intolerable mischief. So are the 
first entrances of sin, stopped with the antidotes of a hearty 
prayer, and checked into sobriety by the eye of a reverend man, 
or the counsels of a single sermon ; but when such beginnings 
are neglected, and our religion hath not in it so much philosophy 
as to think anything evil as long as we can endure it, they grow 
up to ulcers and pestilential evils ; they destroy the soul by their 
abode, who at their first entry might have been killed with the 
pressure of a little finger." ^ 

All extremes meet in that imagination. The cava- 
liers who heard him, found, as in Ford, Beaumont and 
Fletclier, the crude copy of the most coarse and imclean 
truth, and the light music of the most graceful and airy 
fancies ; the smell and horrors of a dissecting room,^ and 
all on a sudden the freshness and cheerfulness of smil- 
ing dawn ; the hateful detail of leprosy, its white spots, 
its inner rottenness ; and then this lovely picture of a 
lark, rising amid the early perfumes of the fields : — 

^ Sermon xvi. , Of Chrowth in Sin, 

' ** We have already opened up this dunghill covered with snow, 
which was indeed on the outside white as the spots of leprosy. " 


" For so have I seen a lark rising from his bed of grass, and 
soaring upwards, singing as he rises, and hopes to get to heaven, 
and climb above the clouds ; but the poor bird was beaten back 
with the loud sighings of an eastern wind, and his motion made 
irregular and inconstant, descending more at every breath of the 
tempest, than it could recover by the vibration and frequent 
weighing of his wings, till the little creature was forced to sit 
down and pant, and stay till the storm was over ; and then it 
made a prosperous flight, and did rise and sing, as if it had 
learned music and motion from an angel, as he passed sometimes 
through the air, about his ministries here below. So is the 
prayer of a good man.'' ^ 

And he continues with the charm, sometimes with 
the very words, of Shakspeare. In the preacher, as 
well as in the poet, as well as in all the cavaliers and 
all the artists of the time, the imagination is so full, 
that it reaches the real^ even to its filth, and the ideal 
as far as its heaven. 

How could true religious sentiment thus accom- 
modate itself to such a frank and worldly gait ? This, 
however, is what it has done; and more — the latter 
has generated the former. With Taylor, as well as 
with the others, bold poetry leads to profound faith. 
If this alliance astonishes us to-day, it is because in this 
respect people have grown pedantic. We take a formal 
man for a religious man. We are content to see him 
stiff in his black coat, choked in a white neckerchief, 
with a prayer-book in his hand. We confound piety 
with decency, propriety, permanent and perfect regu- 
larity. We proscribe to a man of faith all candid 
speech, all bold gesture, all fire and dash in word or act ; 
we are shocked by Luther's rude words, the bursts of 

1 CMden Orove Sermons : V. " The Return of Prayers." 

198 THE RENAISSANCE. . book n. 

laughter which shook his mighty paunch, his rages like 
a working-man, his plain and free speaking, the auda- 
cious familiarity with which he treats Christ and the 
Deity. ^ We do not perceive that these freedoms and 
this recklessness are precisely signs of entire belief, that 
warm and immoderate conviction is too sure of itself 
to be tied down to an irreproachable style, that impul- 
sive religion consists not of punctilios but of emotions. 
It is a poem, the greatest of all, a poem believed in ; 
this is why these men found it at the end of their 
poesy : the way of looking at the world, adopted by 
Shakspeare and all the tragic poets, led to it ; another 
step, and Jacques, Hamlet, would be there. That vast 
obscurity, that black imexplored ocean, " the unknown 
country," which they saw on the verge of our sad life, 
who knows whether it is not bounded by another shore ? 
The troubled notion of the shadowy beyond is national, 
and tliis is why the national renaissance at this time 
became Christian. When Taylor speaks of death he 
only takes up and works out a thought which Shak- 
speare had already sketched: — 

" All the succession of time, all the changes in nature, all the 
varieties of light and darkness, the thousand thousands of acci- 
dents in the world, and every contingency to every man, and to 
every creature, doth preach our funeral sermon, and calls us to 
look and see how the old sexton Time throws up the earth, and 
digs a grave where we must lay our sins or our sorrows, and sow 

^ Luther's Table Talk, ed. Hazlitt, No. 187, p. 30 : When Jesus 
Christ was bom, he doubtless cried and wept like other children, and 
his mother tended him as other mothers tend their children. As he 
grew up he was submissive to his parents, and waited on them, and 
carried his supposed father's dinner to him ; and when he came back, 
Mary no doubt often said, **My dear little Jesus, where hast thou 


our bodies, till they rise again in a fair or in an intolerable 

For beside this final death, which swallows us whole, 
there axe partial deaths which devour us piecemeal : — 

''Every revolution which the son makes about the world, 
divides between life and death ; and death possesses both those 
portions by the next morrow; and we are dead to all those 
months which we have already lived, and we shall never live 
them over again : and still (rod makes little periods of our age. 
First we change our world, when we come from the womb to 
feel the warmth of the sun. Then we sleep and enter into the 
image of death, in which state we are unconcerned in all the 
changes of the world : and if our mothers or our nurses die, or 
a wild boar destroy our vineyards, or our king be sick, we regard 
it not, but during that state are as disinterest as if our eyes 
were closed with the clay that weeps in the bowels of the earth. 
At the end of seven years our teeth &11 and die before us, repre- 
senting a formal prologue to the tragedy ; and still eveiy seven 
years it is odds but we shall finish the last scene : and when 
nature, or chance, or vice, takes our body in pieces, weakening 
some parts and loosing others, we taste the grave and the 
solemnities of our own funerals, first in those parts that minis- 
tered to vice, and next in them that served for ornament, and 
in a short time even they that served for necessity become useless, 
and entangled like the wheels of a broken clock. Baldness is 
but a dressing to our funeraLs, the proper ornament of mourning, 
and of a person entered very far into the regions and possession 
of death : and we have many more of the same signification ; 
gray hairs, rotten teeth, dim eyes, trembling joints, short breath, 
stiff limbe, wrinkled skin, short memoiy, decayed appetite. 
Eveiy day's necessity calls for a reparation of that portion which 
death fed on all night, when we lay in his lap and slept in his 
outer chambers. The veiy spirits of a man prey upon the daily 
portion of bread and flesh, and eveiy meal is a rescue from one 

200 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

death, and lays up for another ; and while we thmk a thought, 
we die; and the clock strikes, and reckons on our portion of 
eternity : we form our words with the breath of our nostrils, we 
have the less to live upon for every word we speak." ^ 

Beyond all these destructions other destructions are 
at work ; chance mows us down as well as nature, and 
we are the prey of accident as well as of necessity : — 

'' Thus nature calls us to meditate of death by those things 
which are the instruments of acting it : and God by all the 
variety of His providence makes us see death evei3rwhere, in all 
variety of circumstances, and dressed up for all the fancies, and 
the expectation of every siugle person.^ . . . And how many 
teeming mothers have rejoiced over their swelling wombs, and 
pleased themselves in becoming the channels of blessing to a 
£Eunily, and the midwife hath quickly bound their heads and 
feet and carried them forth to burial?^ . . . You can go no 
whither but you tread upon a dead man's bones.'' ^ 

Thus these powerful words roll on, sublime as an 
organ motett ; this universal crushing out of human 
vanities has the funeral grandeur of a tragedy ; piety 
in this instance proceeds from eloquence, and genius 
leads to faith. All the powers and all the tenderness 
of the soul are moved. It is not a cold rigorist who 
speaks ; it is a man, a moved man, with senses and a 
heart, who has become a Christian not by mortification, 
but by the development of bis whole being : — 

** Reckon but from the sprightfulness of youth, and the fair 
cheeks and full eyes of childhood, from the vigorousness and 
strong flexture of the joints of five and twenty, to the hollowness 
and dead paleness, to the loathsomeness and horror of a three 

^ Holy Difing, ed. Eden, ch. L sec. i. p. 267. 
» Ibid 267. » Ibid 268. * Ibid, 269. 


daTB* burial, and ve Bball perceive the distance to be very great 
and vei; strange. But bo have I seen a rose newly Bpringing 
from the clefts of ita hood, and at fint it was fair as the morning, 
and fall with the dew of heaven as a lamb's fleece ; but when & 
ruder breath had forced open its virgin modesty, and dismantled 
its too youthful and unripe retirements, it began to put on dark- 
nen, and to decline to softness and the aymptoms of a sickly age ; 
it bowed the head, and broke its stalk, and at night having lost 
some of its leaves and all its beauty, it fell into the portion of 
weeds and outworn faces. The same is the portion of every 
man and every woman, tlie heritage of worms and 'serpents, 
rottenness and cold dishonour, and our beauty so changed, that 
our acquaintance quickly knew us not ; and that change mingled 
with BO much horror, or else meets ao with our feais and weak 
discouisingB, that they who six houra ago tended upon us either 
with charitable or ambitious services, cannot withont some rq^ 
Btay in the room alone where the body lies stripped of its life 
and honour. I have read of a fair young German gentleman 
who living often refused to be pictured, but put off the impor- 
tunity of his friends' desire by giving way that after a few days' 
burial tliey might send a paint«r to his vault, and if they saw 
cause for it draw the image of his death unto the life : they did 
so, and found his foce half eaten, and his midriff and backbone 
fidl of serpents ; and so he stands pictured among hia armed 
ancestors. So does the fairest beauty change, and it will be as 
bad with you as me ; and then what servants shall we have to 
wait upon us in the grave t what friends to visit us 1 what ofii- 
dous people to cleanse away the moiet and unwholesome cloud 
reflected upon our faces from the sides of the weeping vaults, 
which are the longest weepers for our funeral ) " ' 

Brought hither, like Hamlet to the burying-^roimd, 
amid the Bkulls which he recognises, and under the 
oppieBsion of the death which he touches, man needs 

' ffoly Difing, ch. i. mc. ii. p. 270. 

202 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

but a slight effort to see a new world arise in his heart. 
He seeks the remedy of his sadness in the idea of eter- 
nal justice, and implores it with a breadth of words 
which makes the prayer a hymn in prose, as beautiful 
as a work of art : — 

^' Eternal (rod, Almighty Father of men and angeU, by whoee 
care and providence I am preserved and blessed, comforted and 
assisted, I humbly beg of Thee to pardon the sins and foUies of 
this day, the weakness of my services, and the strengths of my 
passions, the rashness of my words, and the vanity and evil of 
my actions. just and dear Qod, how long shall I confess my 
sins, and pray against them, and yet (all under them I let it 
be so no more ; let me never return to the follies of which I am 
ashamed, which bring sorrow and death, and Thy displeasure, 
worse than death. Give me a command over my inclinattons 
and a perfect hatred of sin, and a love to Thee above all the 
desires of this world. Be pleased to bless and preserve me thi^ 
night from all sin and all violence of chance, and the malice of 
the spirits of darkness : watch over me in my sleep ; and 
whether I sleep or wake, let me be Thy servant. Be Thou first 
and last in all my thoughts, and the guide and continual assist- 
ance of all my actions. Preserve my body, pardon the sin of 
my soul, and sanctify my spirit. Let me always live holily and 
soberly ; and when I die receive my soul into Thy hands." ^ 


This was, however, but an imperfect Reformation, 
and the official religion was too closely bound up with 
the world to undertake to cleanse it thorouglily : if it 
repressed the excesses of vice, it did not attack its 
source ; and the paganism of the Eenaissance, following 
its bent, already under James I. issued in the corruption, 

^ Th^ Golden Orow. 


OTgie^ disgusting, and drunken habits, provoking and 
gross sensuality,^ which subsequently under the Re- 
storation stank like a sewer in the sun. But under- 
neath the established Protestantism was propagated the 
forbidden Protestantism: the yeomen were settling 
their faith like the gentlemen, and already the Puritans 
made headway under the Anglicans. 

No culture here, no philosophy, no sentiment of 
harmonious and pagan beauty. Conscience alone spoke, 
and its restlessness had become a terror. The sons of 
the shopkeeper, of the farmer, who read the Bible in 
the bam or the counting-house, amid the barrels or the 
wool-bags, did not take matters as a handsome cavalier 
bred up in the old mythology, and refined by an elegant 
Italian education. They took them tragically, sternly 
examined ' themselves, pricked their hearts with their 
scruples, filled their imaginations with the vengeance of 
God and the terrors of the Bible. A gloomy epic, 
terrible and grand as the Edda, was fermenting in their 
melancholy imaginations. They steeped themselves in 
texts of Saint Paul, in the thundering menaces of the 
prophets ; they burdened their minds with the pitiless 
doctrines of Calvin ; they admitted that the majority 
of men were predestined to eternal damnation : ^ many 
believed that this multitude were criminal before their 
birth ; that God willed, foresaw, provided for their ruin ; 
that He designed their punishment from all eternity ; 

* See in Beaumont and Fletcher's Thierry and Theodoret the 
haracten of Bawder, Protalyce, and Bninhalt. In The Custom of the 
Country, by the aame authors, several scenes represent the inside of an 
infamous house, — a frequent thing, by the way, in the dramas of that 
time ; but here the boarders in the house are men. See also their 
Mule a Wife and have a Wife. 

' Calvin, quoted by Haag, ii 216, Histoire dea Dogmes Chritiena. 

204 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

that He created them simply to give them up to it.^ 
Nothing but grace can save the wretched creature, free 
grace, God's sheer favour, which He only grants to a 
few, and which He distributes not according to the 
struggles and works of men, but according to the 
arbitrary choice of His single and absolute wilL We 
are " children of wrath," plague-stricken, and condemned 
from our birth ; and wherever we look in all the ex- 
panse of heaven, we find but thunderbolts flashing to 
destroy us. Fancy, if you can, the effects of such an 
idea on solitary and morose minds, such as this race and 
climate generates. Several persons thought themselves 
damned, and went groaning about the streets ; others 
hardly ever slept They were beside themselves, always 
imagining that they felt the hand of God or the claw 
of the devil upon them. An extraordinary power, im- 
mense means of action, were suddenly opened up in the 
soul, and there was no barrier in the moral life, and no 
establishment in civil society which their eflforts could 
not upset. 

Forthwith private life was transformed. How could 
ordinary sentiments, natural and every-day notions of 
happiness and pleasure, subsist before such a conception ? 
Suppose men condemned to death, not ordinary death, 
but the rack, torture, an infinitely horrible and infinitely 
extended torment, waiting for their sentence, and yet 
knowing that they had one chance in a thousand, in a 
hundred thousand, of pardon ; could they still go on 
amusing themselves, taking an interest in the business 
or pleasure of the time ? The azure heaven shines not 
for them, the sun warms them not, the beauty and 
sweetness of things have no attraction for them ; they 

^ These were the Supralapsarians. 



have lost the wont of laughter ; they fasten inwardly, 
pale and silent, on their anguish and their expectation ; 
they have but one thought : " Will the judge pardon 
me ? " They anxiously probe the involuntary motions 
of their heart, which alone can reply, and the inner 
revelation, which alone can render them certain of 
pardon or ruin. They think that any other condition 
of mind is imholy, that recklessness and joy are mon- 
strous, that every worldly recreation or preoccupation 
is an act of paganism, and that the true mark of a 
Christian is trepidation at the very idea of salvation. 
Thenceforth rigour and rigidity mark their manners. 
The Puritan condemns the stage, the assemblies, the 
world's pomps and gatherings, the court's gallantry and 
elegance, the poetical and symbolical festivals of the 
country, the May-poles days, the merry feasts, beU-ring- 
ings, all the outlets by which sensuous or instinctive 
nature endeavoured to relieve itself. He gives them up, 
abandons recreations and ornaments, crops his hair 
closely, wears a simple sombre-hued coat, speaks through 
his nose, walks stiffly, with his eyes turned upwards, 
absorbed, indifferent to visible things. The external and 
natural man is abolished ; only the inner and spiritual 
man survives ; there remains of the soul only the ideas 
of God and conscience, — a conscience alarmed and dis- 
eased, but strict in every duty, attentive to the least 
requirements, disdaining the caution of worldly moral- 
ity, inexhaustible in patience, courage, sacrifice, en- 
throning chastity on the domestic hearth, truth before 
the tribunals, honesty in the counting-house, labour in 
the workshop, everywhere a fixed determination to bear 
all and do all rather than fail in the least injunction of 
moral justice and Bible-law. The stoical energy, the 

206 THE RENAISSANCE. book it. 

fundamental honesty of the race, were aroused at the 
appeal of an enthusiastic imagination; and these un- 
bending characteristics were displayed in their entirety 
in conjunction with abnegation and virtue. 

Another step, and this great movement passed from 
within to without, from individual manners to public in- 
stitutions. Observe these people in their reading of the 
Bible, they apply to themselves the commands imposed 
on the Jews, and the prologues urge them to it. At 
the beginning of their Bibles the translator ^ places a 
table of the principal words in the Scripture, each with 
its definition and texts to support it. They read and 
weigh these words : "Abomination before God are Idoles, 
Images. Before whom the people do bow them selfes." 
Is this precept observed? No doubt the images are 
taken away, but the queen has still a crucifix in her 
chapel, and is it not a remnant of idolatry to kneel 
down when taking the sacrament ? " Abrogadon, that 
is to abolyshe, or to make of none eflfecte : And so the 
lawe of the commandementes whiche was in the decrees 
and ceremonies, is abolished. The sacrifices, festes, 
meates, and al outwarde ceremonies are abrogated, and 
all the order of priesthode is abrogated." Is this so, 
and how does it happen that the bishops still take 
upon themselves the right of prescribing faith, wor- 
ship, and of tyrannising over Christian consciences? 
And have they not preserved in the organ-music, in the 
surplice of the priests, in the sign of the cross, in a 
hundred other practices, all these visible rites which 
God has declared profane ? " Abuses, The abuses that 

^ The ByhlCj nm(?c laUly with greate industry and Diligece recognised 
(by £dm. Becke), Lond., by John Daye and William Seres, 1549, with 
Tdynale's Prologues, 


be in the church ought to be corrected by the prynces. 
The ministers ought to preache against abuses. Any 
maner of mere tradicions of man are abuses." What, 
meanwhile, is their prince doing, and why does he 
leave abuses in the church ? The Christian must rise 
and protest ; we must purge the church from the pagan 
crust with which tradition has covered it^ 

Such are the ideas conceived by these imcultivated 
minds. Fancy the simple folk, more capable by their 
simplicity of a sturdy faith, these freeholders, these big 
traders, who have sat on juries, voted at elections, deli- 
berated, discussed in common private and public busi- 
ness, used to examine the law, the comparing of pre- 
cedents, all the detail of juridical and legal procedure ; 
bringing their lawyer's and pleader's training to bear 
upon the interpretation of Scripture, who, having once 
formed a conviction, employ for it the cold passion, the 
intractable obstinacy, the heroic sternness of the English 
character. Their precise and combative minds take the 
business in hand. Every one holds himseK bound to 
be ready, strong, and well prepared to answer all such 
as shall demand a reason of his faith. Each one has 
his difficulty and conscientious scruple^ about some 
portion of the liturgy or the official hierarchy ; about 

' Examination of Mr. Axton : "I can't consent to wear the sur- 
plice, it itf against my conscience ; I trust, by the help of Go<], I shall 
never put on that sleeve, which is a mark of the beast*' — Examination 
of Mr. White, " a substantial citizen of London " (1572), accused of 
not going to the parish church : " The whole Scriptures are for destroy- 
ing idolatry, and everything that belongs to it" — "Where is the 
place where these are forbidden?" — **In Deuteronomy and other 
places ; . . . and God by Isaiah commandeth not to pollute ourselves 
with the garments of the image." 

' One expression continually occurs : "Tenderness of conscience'* 
— "*a squeamish stomach " — " our weaker brethren." 

208 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

the dignities of canons and archdeacons, or certain pas- 
sages of the funeral service; about the sacramental 
bread or the reading of the apocryphal books in church ; 
about plurality of benefices or the ecclesiastical square 
cap. They each oppose some point, all together the 
episcopacy and the retention of Bomish ceremonies.^ 
Then they are imprisoned, fined, put in the pillory ; they 
have their ears cut off; their ministers are dismissed, 
hunted out, prosecuted.^ The law declares that any one 
above the age of sixteen who for the space of a month 
shall refuse to attend the established worship, shall be 
imprisoned until such time as he shall submit ; and if 
he does not submit at the end of three months, he shall 
be banished the kingdom; and if he returns, put to 
death. They allow this to go on, and show as much 
firmness in suffering as scruple in belief; for a tittle 
about receiving of the communion, sitting rather than 
kneeling, or standing rather than sitting, they give up 
their livings, their property, their liberty, their country. 
One Dr. Leighton was imprisoned fifteen weeks 
in a dog's kennel, without fire, roof, bed, and in 
irons: his hair and skin fell off; he was set in the 
pillory during the November frosts, then whipt, and 
branded on the forehead ; his ears were cut off, his 
nose slit ; he was shut up eight years in the Fleet, and 
thence cast into the common prison. Many went 
cheerfully to the stake. Religion with them was a 
covenant, that is, a treaty made with God, which must 
be kept in spite of everything, as a 'v^Titten engagement, 
to the letter, to the last syllable. An admirable and 
deplorable stiffness of an over-scrupulous conscience, 



■ -^--^—~^ ~- '- — ^- — • — --— — r — — — '-" — ^— — ^^f 

The separation of the Anglicans and dissenters may be dated;fix>xn 

« 1592. 


vhich made cavillers at the same time with believera, 
whicli was to make tyrants after it had made martyrs. 

Between the two, it made fighting men. These men 
had become wonderfully wealthy and bad increased in 
numbers in the course of eighty years, as is always the 
case with men who labour, live honestly, and pass their 
lives uprightly, sustained by a powerful source of action 
iiom within. Thenceforth they are able to resist, and 
ihey do resist when driven to extremities ; they choose 
to have recourse to arms rather than be driven back to 
idolatry and sin. The Long Parliament assembles, 
defeats the king, purges religion ; the dam is broken, 
tiie Independents are hurled above the Presbyterians, 
the fanatics above the mere zealots ; irresistible and 
overwhelming faith, enthusiasm, grow into a torrent, 
swallow up, or at least disturb the strongest minds, 
politicians, lawyers, captains. The Commons occupy a 
day in every week in deliberating on the progress of 
religion. As soon as they touch upon doctrines they 
become furious. A poor man, Paul Best, being accused 
of denying the Trinity, they demand the passing of a 
decree to punish him with death ; James Nayler having 
imagined that he was God, the Conmions devote them- 
selves to a trial of eleven days, with a Hebraic animosity 
and ferocity : " I think him worse than possessed with 
the deviL Our God is here supplanted. My ears 
trembled, my heart shuddered, on hearing this report. 
I will speak no more. Let us all stop our ears and stone 
him."^ Before the House of Commons, publicly, the men 
in authority had ecstasies. After the expulsion of the 
Prestyterians, the preacher Hugh Peters started up in 
the middle of a sermon, and cried out : " Now I have 

> Barton's Parliamentary Diary, ed, by Ratt, 1S28, 1 Tob. L G4. 
VOL. n. P 

210 THE RENAISSANCE. book u. 

it by RevelatioQ, now I shall tell you. This army 
most root up Mooarchy, not only here, but in France 
and other kingdoms round about ; this is to bring you 
out of £^ypt : this Army is that corner-stone cut out 
of the Mountaine, which must dash the powers of the 
eartii to pieces. But it is objected, the way we walk in 
is without president (sic) ; what think you of the Virgin 
Mary? wasthereeveranypresident before, that a Woman 
should conceive a Child without the company of a Man? 
This is an Age to make examples and presidents in." * 
Cromwell found prophecies, counsels in the Bible for 
the present time, positive justifications of his policy. 
" He looked upon the Design of the Lord in this day to 
be the freeing of His People from every Burden, and 
that was now accomplishing what was prophesied in 
the 110th Fsalm; from the Consideration of which he 
was often encouraged to attend the effecting those 
Ends, spending at least an hour in the Exposition of 
that Psalm." " Granted that be M-as a schemer, 

> W&lker'B HiiUrry of IndtptTidmey, 1B18, part ii. p. 46. 

' Thia passaije may serve as an example of the difficn]ti«s and 
perplexities to vhich a translatoi of a History or Litemtnre moat 
always be exposed, and this without any fault of the original author. 
Ab tiTM diKt emna. M. Taine says that Cromwell found jnstiSeation 
for his policy iu Psalm cxiiL, which, on looking out, 1 fonnd to be "an 
exhortation to praise Goil for His excellency and for His meir?," — a 
paalm by which CromncH's conduct could nowise he justified. I opened 
then Carlyle's Oromiociri Lcltrrs, etc, and saw, iu vol. it part tL p. 
1G7, tha same fact stated, but Psalm ex. metttioned aud given,— a far more 
likely paalm to have influenced Cromwell Cnrlyle refers to Ludlow, 
I SIS, Taine to Guizot, Portraits Politigva, p. SS, and to Carlyle. In 
looking iu Onizot'a Totnme, fith ed., 1SS2, 1 find that this wiilwalio 
mentions Paalm cziiL ; but on referring finally to the Menoirt iff 
Edmund Ludlow, printed at Vivay {tic) in the Canton of Bern, 1498, 1 
read, in vol. L p. 819, the sentence, ai given above ; therefore Oulyle 
was tight— Tr. 



above all ambitious, yet he was truly fanatical and 
sincere. His doctor related that he had been very 
melancholy for years at a time, with strange hallucina- 
tions, and the frequent fancy that he was at death's 
door. Two years before the Revolution he wrote to his 
cousin : " Truly no poor creature hath more cause to put 
himself forth in the cause of his God than I. . . . 
The Lord accept me in His Son, and give me to walk 
in the light — and give us to walk in the light, as He 
is the light ! . . . blessed be His Name for shining 
upon so dark a heart as mine ! " ^ Certainly he 
must have dreamed of becoming a saint as well as a 
king, and aspired to salvation as well as to a throne. 
At the moment when he was proceeding to Ireland, and 
was about to massacre the Catholics there, he wrote to 
his daughter-in-law a letter of advice which Baxter or 
Taylor might willingly have subscribed. In the midst 
of pressing aflfairs, in 1651, he thus exhorted his wife : 
"My dearest, I could not satisfy myself to omit this 
post, although I have not much to write. ... It joys 
me to hear thy soul prospereth : the Lord increase His 
favours to thee more and more. The great good thy 
soul can wish is. That the Lord lift upon thee the light 
of His countenance, which is better than life. The Lord 
bless all thy good coimsel and example to all those 
about thee, and hear aU thy prayers, and accept thee 
always." * Dying, he asked whether grace once received 
could be lost, and was reassured to learn that it could 
not, being, as he said, certain that he had once been in 
a state of grace. He died with this prayer: "Lord, 
though I am a miserable and wretched creature, I am 

^ CrcmwelVs Letters and Speeches^ ed. Carljle, 1866, 8 yoIb. L 79. 
s Idem, ii 273. 

212 THE RENAISSANCR book il 

in Covenant with Thee through grace. And I may, I 
will, come to Thee, for Thy People. Thou hast made 
me, though very imworthy, a mean instrument to do 
them some good, and Thee service. . . . Lord, however 
Thou do dispose of me, continue and go on to do good 
for them . . . and go on . . . with the work of refor- 
mation ; and make the Name of Christ glorious in the 
worid." ^ Underneath this practical, prudent, worldly 
spirit, there was an English element of anxious and 
powerful imagination, capable of engendering an impas- 
sioned Calvinism and mystic fears.^ The same contrasts 
were jumbled together and reconciled in the other 
Independents. In 1648, after unsuccessful tactics, 
they were in danger between the king and the Parlia- 
ment ; then they assembled for several days together at 
Windsor to confess themselves to God, and seek His 
assistance ; and they discovered that all their evils came 
firom the conferences they had had the weakness to pro- 
pose to the king. " And in this path the Lord led us," 
said Adjutant Allen, " not only to see our sin, but also 
our duty; and this so unanimously set with weight 
upon each heart that none was able hardly to speak a 
word to each other for bitter weeping, partly in the sense 
and shame of our iniquities ; of our unbelief, base fear 
of men, and carnal consultations (as the fruit thereof) 
with our own wisdoms, and not with the Word of the 
Lord."^ Thereupon they resolved to bring the king to 
judgment and death, and did as they had resolved. 
Around them, fanaticism and foUy gained ground. 

^ CromwtlVa LeitcrSf ed. Carlylo, iii 378. 

• See his speeches. The style is disjointed, obscure, impassioned, 
OQt of the common, like that of a man who is not master of his wits, 
and who yet sees straight by a sort of intuition. 

' Cromwdts Letters^ i 265. 



Independents, Milleuariaus, AntinoniiaQs, Anabaptists, 
Libertines, Faniiliats, Quakers, Enthusiasts, Seekers, Pet- 
fectionists, Sociniana, Ariang, anti-Trinitarians, anti- 
Scripturalists, Sceptics ; the list of sects is intenninable. 
Women, soldiers, suddenly got up into the pulpit and 
preached. The strangest ceremonies took place in public 
In 1644, saya Dr. Featly, the Anabaptists rebaptised a 
hundred men and women together at twil^ht, in streams, 
in branches of the Thames, and elsewhere, plunging 
them in the water over head and ears. One Gates, in the 
county of Essex, was brought before a jury for the murder 
of Anne Mariiin, who died a few days after her baptism 
of a cold which bad seized her. George Fox the 
Qoaker spoke with God, and witnessed with a loud 
voice, in the streets and market-places, against the sins of 
the e^ William Simpson, one of his disciples, " was 
moved of the Lord to go, at several times, for three years, 
naked and barefoot before them, as a sign unto them, in 
the markets, courts, towns, cities, to priests* houses, and 
to great men's houses, telling them, so shall they all be 
stripped naked, as he was stripped naked. And sometime 
he was moved to put on hair sackcloth, and to besmear 
his face, and to tell them, so would the Lord besmear all 
their religion as he was besmeared.' 

" A female came into Whitehall Chapel stark naked, 
in the midst of public worship, the Lord Protector 
himself being present A Quaier came to the door of the 
Farliament House with a drawn sword, and wounded 
several who were present, saying that he was inspired 
by the Holy Spirit to kill every man that sat in the 
house." The Fifth Monarchy men believed that Christ 

> A Journal of Bit Life, ek., of tiat Antitnt, Eminml, and Faithful 
Senani ofJaiu Chriat, Oeorgt Fox, eth «dit, 183fl. 

214 THE EENAISSANCE. book n. 

was about to descend to reign in person upon earth for 
a thousand years, with the saints for His ministers. 
The Eanters looked upon furious vociferations and con- 
tortions as the principal signs of faith. The Seekers 
thought that religious truth could only be seized in a 
sort of mystical fog, with doubt and fear. The Muggle- 
tonians decided that " John Eeeve and Ludovick 
Muggleton were the two last prophets and messengers 
of God ; " they declared the Quakers possessed of the 
devil, exorcised him, and prophesied that William Penn 
would be damned. I have before mentioned James 
Nayler, an old quartermaster of General Lambert, adored 
as a god by his followers. Several women led his 
horse, others cast before him their kerchiefs and scarves, 
singing. Holy, holy. Lord God. They called him 
" lovely among ten thousand, the only Son of God, 
the propliet of the Most High, King of Israel, the 
eternal Son of Justice, the Prince of Peace, Jesus, him in 
whom the hope of Israel rests." One of them, Dorcas 
Erbury, declared that she had lain dead for two whole 
days in her prison in Exeter Gaol, and that Nayler 
had restored her to life by laying his hands upon her. 
Sarah Blackbury finding liini a prisoner, took him by 
the hand and said, " Kise up my love, my dove, my 
fairest one : why stayest tliou among the pots ?" Then 
she kissed liis hand and fell down before him. When 
he was put in the })illory, some of his disciples began 
to sing, weep, smite their breasts ; others kissed his 
hands, rested on his bosom, and kissed his woimds. * 
Bedlam broken loose could not have surpassed them. 
Undemeatli the surface and these disorderly bubbles 

^ Burton's ParliamerUary Biaryy i. 46-173. Neal, History of the 
Puritans, iii., Supplt. 


the wise and deep strata of the nation had settled, and 
the new faith was doing its work with them, — a prac- 
tical and positive, a political and moral work Whilst 
the German Reformation, after the German wont, re- 
sulted in great volumes and a scholastic system, the 
English Reformation, after the English wont, resulted 
in action and establishment "How the Church of 
Christ shall be governed ;" that was the great question 
which was discussed among the sects. The House of 
Commons asked the Assembly of Divines : If the 
classical, provincial, and local assemblies were jure 
divino, and instituted by the will and appointment of 
Jesus Christ ? If they were all so ? If only some 
were so, and which ? If appeals carried by the elders 
of a congregation to provincial, departmental, and 
national assemblies were jure divino, and according to 
the will and appointment of Jesus Christ ? If some 
only were jure divino ? And which ? If the power of the 
assemblies in such appeals was jure divino, and by the 
will and appointment of Jesus Christ ? and a himdred 
other questions of the same kind. Parliament declared 
that, according to Scripture, the dignities of priest and 
bishop were equal ; it regulated ordinations, convoca- 
tions, excommunications, jurisdictions, elections ; spent 
half its time and exerted all its power in establishing 
the Presbyterian Church.^ So, with the Independents, 
fervour engendered courage and discipline. "Cromwell's 
regiment of horse were most of them freeholders' sons, 
who engaged in the war upon principles of conscience ; 
and that being well armed within, by the satisfaction 
of their consciences, and without with good iron arms, 
they would as one man stand firmly and charge desper- 

1 See Neal, HUU of the Puritans, iL 418-450. 

216 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

ately."» This army, in which inspired corporals 
preached to lukewarm colonels, acted with the solidity 
and precision of a Eussian regiment : it was a duty, a 
duty towards God, to fire straight and march in good 
order ; and a perfect Christian made a perfect soldier. 
There was no separation here between theory and prac- 
tice, between private and public life, between the 
spiritual and the temporal. They wished to apply 
Scripture to *' establish the kingdom of heaven upon 
earth," to institute not only a Christian Church, but a 
Christian Society, to change the law into a guardian of 
morals, to compel men to piety and virtue ; and for a 
while they succeeded in it " Though the discipline of 
the church was at an end, there was nevertheless an 
uncommon spirit of devotion among people in the 
parliament quarters ; the Lord's day was observed with 
remarkable strictness, the churches being crowded with 
numerous and attentive hearers three or four times in 
the day ; the officers of the peace patrolled the streets, 
and shut up all publick houses ; there was no travelling 
on the road, or walking in the fields, except in cases of 
absolute necessity. Religious exercises were set up in 
private families, as reading the Scriptures, family prayer, 
repeating sermons, and singing of psalms, which was so 
universal, that you might walk through the city of 
London on the evening of the Lord's day, without see- 
ing an idle person, or hearing anything but the voice of 
prayer or praise from churches and private houses." ^ 
People would rise before daybreak, and walk a great dis- 

^ Whitelocke'a MemwriaUt i 68. 

• Neal, ii 653. Compare with the French Reyolntion. When the 
Bastille was demolished, they wrote on the ruins these words : " Ici 
Ton danse." From this contrast we see the difference between the two 
systems and the two nations. 


tance to be able to hear the word of God. "There 
were no gaming-housea, or houses of pleasure ; no pro- 
fane swearing, drunkenness, or any kind of debauchery.'" 
The Farliamentaiy soldiers came in great numbers to 
listen to sermons, spoke of religion, prayed and sang 
psalms tc^ether, when on duty. In 1644 Parliament 
forbade the sale of commodities on Sunday, and ordained 
" that no pereon shall travd, or carry a burden, or do 
any worldly labour, upon penalty of lOs. for the 
traveller, and Ss. for every burden. That no person 
shall on the Lord's day use, or be present at, any 
wrestling, shooting, fowling, ringing of bells for pleasure, 
markets, wakes, church-ales, dancing, games or spoita 
whatsoever, upon penalty of 53. to every one above 
fourteen years of ag& And if children are found 
offending in the premisea, their parents or guardians to 
forfeit 12d. for every offence. If the several fines above 
mentioned cannot be le\'ied, the offending party shall 
be set in the stocks for the space of three hours." 
When the Independents were in power, severity be- 
came stiU greater. The officers in the army, having 
convicted one of their quartermasters of blasphemy, 
condemned htm to have his tongue bored with a red- 
hot iron, his sword broken over his head, and himself 
to be dismissed from the army. During Cromwell's 
expedition in Ireland, we read that no blasphemy was 
heard in the camp ; the soldiers spent their leisure hours 
in reading the Bible, singing psalms, and holding religious 
controversies. In 1650 ^e punishments inflicted on 
Sabb&th-breakers were doubled. Stem laws were passed 
against betting, gallantry was reckoned a crime ; the 
theatres were destroyed, the spectators fined, the actors 
' Vfl, But. of Oe Pmilans, iL 656. 

218 THE EENAISSANCE. book n. 

* whipt at the cart's tail ; adultery punished with death : 
in order to reach crime more surely, they persecuted 
pleasure. But if they were austere against others, they 
were so against themselves, and practised the virtues 
they exacted- After the Eestoration, two thousand 
ministers, rather than conform to the new liturgy, resigned 
their cures, though they and their families had to die 
of hunger. Many of them, says Baxter, thinking that 
they were not justified in quitting their ministry after 
being set apart for it by ordination, preached to such 
as would hear them in the fields and in certain houses, 
until they were seized and thrown into prisons, where a 
great number of them perished, Cromwell's fifty thou- 
sand veterans, suddenly disbanded and without resources, 
did not bring a single recruit to the vagabonds and 
bandits. " The Royalists themselves confessed that, 
in every department of honest industry, the discarded 
warriors prospered beyond other men, that none was 
charged with any theft or robbery, that none was heard 
to ask an alms, and that, if a baker, a mason, or a 
waggoner, attracted notice by his diligence and sobriety, 
he was in all probability one of Oliver's old soldiers." ^ 
Purified by persecution and ennobled by patience, they 
ended by winning the tolerance of tlie law and the 
respect of the public, and raised national morality, 
as they had saved national liberty. But others, exiles 
in America, pushed to the extreme this great religi- 
ous and stoical spirit, with its weaknesses and its 
power, with its vices and its virtues. Their determina- 
tion, intensified by a fervent faith, employed in politi- 
cal and practical pursuits, invented the science of emi- 
gration, made exile tolerable, drove back the Indians, 

^ Macaalay, HisL of England^ ed. Lady Treveljran, i. 1"21. 


fertilised the desert, raised a rigid morality into a civil 
law, founded and armed a church, and on the Bible as 
a basis built up a new state. ^ 

That was not a conception of life from which a 
genuine literature might be expected to issue. The 
idea of the beautiful is wanting, and what is a literature 
without that ? The natural expression of the heart's 
emotions is proscribed, and what is a literature without 
that ? They abolished as impious the free stage and the 
rich poesy which the Renaissance had brought them. 
They rejected as profane the ornate style and copious 
eloquence which had been established around them by 
the imitation of antiquity and of Italy. They mis- 
trusted reason, and were incapable of philosophy. They 
ignored the divine languor of the Imitatio Christi and 
the touching tenderness of the GospeL Their character 
exhibits only manliness, their conduct austerity, their 
mind preciseness. We find amongst them only excited 
theologians, minute controversialists, energetic men of 
action, narrow and patient minds, engrossed in positive 
proofs and practical labours, void of general ideas and 
refined tastes, dulled by texts, dry and obstinate 
reasoners, who twisted the Scripture in order to extract 
from it a form of government or a table of dogma. 
What could be narrower or more repulsive than these 
pursuits and wrangles? A pamphlet of the time 
petitions for liberty of conscience, and draws its argu- 
ments (1) from the parable of the wheat and the tares 

^ A certain John Denis was publicly whipt for having sung a pro- 
fane song. Mathias, a little girl, having given some roasted chestnuts 
to Jeremiah Boosy, and told him ironically that he might give them back 
to her in Paradise, was ordered to ask pardon three times in church, 
and to be three days on bread and water in prison. 1660-1670 ; 
records of Massachusetts. 

220 THE RENAISSANCE. book n, 

which grow together till the harvest; (2) from this 
maxim of the Apostles, Let every man be thoroughly 
persuaded in his own mind ; (3) from this text, What- 
soever is not of faith is sin ; (4) from this divine rule 
of our Saviour, Do to others what you would they 
should do unto you. Later, when the angry Commons 
desired to pass judgment on James Nayler, the trial 
became entangled in an endless juridical and theological 
discussion, some declaring that the crime committed 
was idolatry, others seduction, all emptying out before 
the House their armoury of commentaries and texts,* 
Seldom has a generation been foimd more mutilated in 
all the faculties which produce contemplation and orna- 
ment, more reduced to the faculties which nourish dis- 
cussion and morality. Like a beautiful insect which has 
become transformed and has lost its wings, so we see 
the poetic generation of Elizabeth disappear, leaving 
in its place but a sluggish caterpillar, a stubborn 
and useful spinner, armed with industrious feet and 
formidable jaws, spending its existence in eating into 
old leaves and devouring its enemies. They are without 
style; they speak like business men; at most, here 
and there, a pamphlet of Prynne possesses a little vigour. 
Tlieir histories, like May's for instance, are flat and 
hea\y. Their memoirs, even those of Ludlow and 
Mrs. Hutchinson, are long, wearisome, mere statements, 
destitute of personal feelings, void of enthusiasm or 
entertaining matter ; " they seem to ignore themselves, 
and are engrossed by the general prospects of their 

^ "Upon the common sense of Scripture," said Megor-general 
Disbrowe, "there are few but do commit blasphemy, as our Saviour 
puts it in Mark : ' sins, blasphemies ; if so, then none without bias- 
phemy.' It was charged upon David, and Eli's son, 'thou bast blas- 
phemed, or caused others to blaspheme.' " — Burton's Diary^ L 54. 


cause." ^ Good works of piety, solid and convincing 
sermons; sincere, edifying, exact, methodical books, 
like those of Baxter, Barclay, Calamy, John Owen; 
personal narratives, like that of Baxter, like Fox's 
journal, Bimyan's life, a large collection of documents 
and arguments, conscientiously arranged, — this is aU 
they offer; the Puritan destroys the artist, stiffens the 
man, fetters the writer ; and leaves of artist, , man, 
writer, only a sort of abstract being, the slave of a 
watchword. If a Milton springs up amongst them, it 
is because by his great curiosity, his travels, his com- 
prehensive education, above all by his youth saturated 
in the grand poetry of the preceding age, and by his 
independence of spirit, haughtUy defended even against 
the sectarians, Milton passes beyond sectarianism. 
Strictly speaking, the Puritans could but have one poet, 
an involimtary poet, a madman, a martyr, a hero, and 
a victim of grace; a genuine preacher, who attains 
the beautiful by chance, whilst pursuing the useful on 
principle ; a poor tinker, who, employing images so as 
to be understood by mechanics, sailors, servant-girls, 
attained, without pretending to it, eloquence and high 


Next to the Bible, the book most widely read in 
England is the Pilgrim's Progress, by John Bunyan. 
The reason is, that the basis of Protestantism is the 
doctrine of salvation by grace, and that no writer has 
equalled Bunyan in making this doctrine imderstood. 

To treat well of supernatural impressions, a man must 
have been subject to them. Bunyan had that kind of 

1 Guizot, PoHraits P6lUiqw»^ 5th ed., 1862. 

222 THE RENAISSANCE. book ii. 

iinagination which produces them. Powerful as that 
of an artist, but more vehement, this imagination 
worked in the man without his co-operation, and be- 
sieged him with visions which he had neither willed 
nor foreseen. From that moment there was in him as 
it were a second self, ruling the first, grand and terrible, 
whose apparitions were sudden, its motions imknown, 
which redoubled or crushed his faculties, prostrated or 
transported him, bathed him in the sweat of agony, 
ravished him with trances of joy, and which by its 
force, strangeness, independence, impressed upon him 
the presence and the action of a foreign and superior 
master. Bunyan, like Saint Theresa, was from infancy 
"greatly troubled with the thoughts of the fearful 
torments of heU-fire," sad in the midst of pleasures, 
believing himself damned, and so despairing, that he 
wished he was a devil, " supposing they were only tor- 
mentors ; that if it must needs be that I went thither, 
I might be rather a tormentor, than be tormented my- 
self."^ There already was the assault of exact and 
bodily images. Under their influence reflection ceased, 
and the man was suddenly spurred into action. The 
first movement carried him with closed eyes, as down a 
steep slope, into mad resolutions. One day, " being in 
the field, with my companions, it chanced that an adder 
passed over the highway ; so I, having a stick, struck 
her over the back ; and liaving stunned her, I forced 
open her mouth witli my stick, and plucked her sting 
out with my fingers, by which act, had not God been 
merciful to me, I might, by my desperateness, have 
brought myself to my end." ^ In his first approaches 
to conversion he was extreme in his emotions, and 

^ Orau Abounding to the Chut/ of Sinners, § 7. • Ibid. § 12. 


penetrated to the heart by the sight of physical objects, 
"adoring" priest, service, altar, vestment. "This 
conceit grew so strong npon my spirit, that had I but 
seen a priest (though never so sordid and debauched 
in his life), I should find my spirit fall under him, 
reverence him, and knit unto him ; yea, I thought, for 
the love I did bear unto them (supposing they were the 
ministers of God), I could have laid down at their feet, 
and have been trampled upon by them; their name, 
their garb, and work did so intoxicate and bewitch me."^ 
Already his ideas clung to him with that irresistible 
hold which constitutes monomania; no matter how 
absurd they were, they ruled him, not by their truth, 
but by their presence. The thought of an impossible 
danger terrified him just as much as the sight of an 
imminent periL As a man hung over an abyss by a 
sound rope, he forgot that the rope was sound, and he 
became giddy. After the fashion of English villagers, 
he loved bell-ringing; when he became a Puritan, he 
considered the amusement profane, and gave it up ; yet, 
impelled by his desire, he would go into the belfry and 
watch the ringers. " But quickly after, I began to 
think, ' How if one of the bells should faU ? * Then I 
chose to stand under a main beam, that lay overthwart 
the steeple, from side to side, thinking here I might 
stand sure ; but then I thought again, should the bell 
fall with a swing, it might first hit the wall, and then 
rebounding upon me, might kill me for all this beam. 
This made me stand in the steeple-door; and now, 
thought I, I am safe enough, for if a bell should then 
fall, I can slip out behind these thick walls, and so be 
preserved notwithstanding. So after this I would yet 

^ Grace Aboundingt § 17. 

224 THE RENAISSANCK book n. 

go to see them ring, bat would not go mj faitliei 
than the steeple-door ; hut then it came into my head, 
'How if the steeple itself should fall?' And this 
thought (it may, for aught I know, when I stood and 
looked on) did continually so shake my mind, that I 
durst not stand at the steeple-door any longer, but was 
forced to See, for fear the steeple should fall upon my 
head." ' Frequently the mere conception of a ein 
became for him at emptation so involuntary and so 
strong, that he felt upon him the sharp claw of the devil 
The fixed idea swelled in his head like a painful 
abscess, faU of all Bensitiveneae and of all his life's 
blood. " Now no ain would serve but that ; if it were 
to be committed by speaking of such a word, then I 
have been as if my mouth would have spoken that 
word whether I would or no ; and in so strong a measure 
was the temptation upon me, that often I have been 
ready to clap my hands under my chin, to hold my 
mouth from opening ; at other times, to leap with my 
head downward into some muckhill hole, to keep my 
mouth from speaking."^ Later, in the middle of s 
eermoD which he was preaching, he was assailed by 
blasphemous thoughts ; the word came to his lips, and 
all his power of resistance was barely able to restrain 
the muscle excited by the tyrannous brain. 

Once the minister of the parish was preachii^ E^ainst 
the sin of dancing, oaths, and games, when he was struck 
with the idea that the sermon was for him, and returned 
home full of trouble. But he ate ; his stomach being 
charged, discharged his brain, and Itis remorse was dis- 
persed. Like a true child, entirely absorbed by the 
emotion of the moment, he was transported, jumped out, 
> Oract Abounding, g 33, 31. * Itid. % 103. 


and ran to the sports. He had thrown his ball, and 
waa about to begin again, when a voice from heaven 
suddenly pierced his bouL " ' Wilt thou leave thy sins 
and go to heaven, or have thy sins and go to hell ? ' 
At this I was put to an exceeding maze ; wherefore, 
leaving my cat upon the ground, I looked up to heaven, 
and was as if I had with the eyes of my underatanding, 
seen the Lord Jesus look down upon me, as being very 
hotly displeased with me, and as if He did severely 
tiireaten me with some grievous punishment for these 
and other ungodly practices." ^ Suddenly reflecting 
that his sins were very great, and that he would certainly 
be damned whatever he did, he resolved to enjoy him- 
self in the meantime, and to sin as much as he could 
in this life. He took up his ball again, recommenced 
the game with ardour, and swore louder and oftener 
than ever. A month afterwards, being reproved by a 
woman, " I was silenced, and put to secret shame, and 
that too, as I thought, before the God of heaven : where- 
fore, whQe I stood there, hanging down my head, I 
wished that I might be a little child again, and that 
my father might learn me to speak without this wicked 
■way of swearing ; for, thought I, I am so accustomed 
to it, that it is in vain to think of a reformation, for 
that could never be. But how it came to pass I know 
not, I did from this time forward so leave my swearing, 
that it was a great wonder to myself to observe it ; and 
whereas before I knew not how to speak unless I put 
an oath before, and another behind, to make my words 
have authority, now I could without it speak better, and 
with more pleasantness, than ever I could before." ^ 
Theee sudden alternations, these vehement resolutions, 
* Ibid. Sg 27 and 28. 

226 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

this unlooked-for renewal of heart, are the products of 
an involuntary and impassioned imagination, which by 
its hallucinations, its mastery, its fixed ideas, its mad 
ideas, prepares the way for a poet, and announces an 
inspired man. 

In him circumstances develop character ; his kind of 
life develops his kind of mind. He was bom in the 
lowest and most despised rank, a tinker's son, himself a 
wandering tinker, with a wife as poor as himself, so that 
they had not a spoon or a dish between them. He had 
been taught in childhood to read and write, but he had 
since " almost wholly lost what he had learned" Edu- 
cation diverts and disciplines a man; fills him with 
varied and rational ideas ; prevents him from sinking 
into monomania or being excited by transport ; gives 
him determinate thoughts instead of eccentric fancies, 
pliable opinions for fixed convictions ; replaces impetu- 
ous images by calm reasonings, sudden resolves by care- 
f iQly w^eighed decisions ; furnishes us with the wisdom 
and ideas of others ; gives us conscience and self-com- 
mand. Suppress this reason and this discipline, and 
consider the poor ignorant working man at his toil ; 
his head works while his hands work, not ably, with 
methods acquired from any logic be might have mustered, 
but with dark emotions, beneath a disorderly flow of 
confused images. Morning and evening, the hammer 
which he uses in liis trade, drives in M-ith its deafening 
sounds the same thouglit perpetually returning and self- 
communing. A troubled, obstinate vision floats before 
him in the brightness of the hammered and quivering 
metal In the red furnace where the iron is glowing, 
in the clang of the hammered brass, in the black comers 
where the damp shadow creeps, he sees the flame and 


darkness of hell, and the rattling of eternal chains. 
Next day he sees the same image, the day after, the 
whole week, month, year. His brow wrinkles, his eyes 
grow sad, and hig wife hears him groan in the night-time. 
She remembers that she has two volumes in an old bag, 
The Plain Man's Pathway to Heaven and The Practice of 
Piety ; he spells them out to console himself; and the 
printed thoughts, already sublime in themselves, made 
more so by the slowness with which they are read, sink 
like an oracle into his subdued faith. The braziers of 
the devils — the golden harps of heaven — the bleeding 
Christ on the cross, — each of these deep-rooted ideas 
sprouts poisonously or wholesomely in his diseased 
brain, spreads, pushes out and springs higher with a 
ramification of fresh visions, so crowded, that in his en- 
cumbered mind he has no further place nor air for 
more conceptions. WiU he rest when he sets forth in 
the winter on his tramp? During his long solitary 
wanderings, over wild heaths, in cursed and haunted 
bogs, always abandoned to his own thoughts, the inevi- 
table idea pursues him. These neglected roads where 
he sticks in the mud, these sluggish dirty rivers which 
he crosses on the cranky ferry-boat, these threatening 
whispers of the woods at night, when in perilous places 
the iivid moon shadows out ambushed forms, — all that 
he sees and hears falls into an involuntary poem around 
the one absorbing idea ; thus it changes into a vast body 
of visible legends, and multiplies its power as it multi- 
plies its details. Having become a dissenter, Bunyan 
is shut up for twelve years, having no other amusement 
but the Book of Martyrs and the Bible, in one of those 
pestiferous prisons where the Puritans rotted under the 
Restoration. There he is, still alone, thrown back upon 

228 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

himself by the monotony of his dungeon, besieged by 
the terrors of the old Testament, by the vengeful out- 
pourings of tlie j)rophets, by the thunder- striking 
words of Paul, by the spectacle of trances and of 
martyrs, face to face with God, now in despair, now 
consoled, troubled with involuntary images and un- 
lookeil-for emotions, seeing alternately devil and 
angels, the actor and the witness of an internal drama 
whose vicissitudes he is able to relata He writes them : 
it is his book. You see now the condition of this in- 
flamed brain. Poor in ideas, full of images, given up to 
a fixed and single thought, plunged into this thought by 
liis mechanical pursuit, by his prison and his readings, 
by his knowledge and his ignorance, circumstances, like 
nature, make him a visionary and an artist, furnish him 
with supernatural impressions and visible images, teach- 
ing him the history of grace and the means of express- 
ing it. 

Tlie Pilgriw!s Progress is a manual of devotion for the 
use of simple folk, whilst it is an allegorical poem of 
grace. In it we hear a man of the people speaking to the 
people, who would render intelligible to all the terrible 
doctrine of damnation and salvation.^ According to 

^ This is an abstract of the events : — From highest heaven a voice 
has proclaimed vengeance against the City of Destruction, where lives 
a sinner of the name of Christian. Terrified, he rises up amid the jeers 
of his neighbours, and departs, for fear of l)oing devoured by the fire 
which is to consume the criminals. A helpful man. Evangelist^ shows 
him the right road. A treacherous man, Worldlywisc^ tries to turn 
him aside. His companion. Pliable, who had followed him at first, 
gets stuck in the Slough of Despond, and leaves him. He advances 
bravely across the dirty water and the slippery mud, and reaches the 
Strait Gate, where a wise Interpreter instructs him by visible shows, 
and points out the way to the Heavenly City. He passes before a 
cross, and the heavy burden of sins, which he carried on his back, is 


Bunyan, we are " children of wrath," condemned from 
our birth, guilty by nature, justly predestined to destruc- 
tion. Beneath this formidable thought the heart gives 
way. The unhappy man relates how he trembled in 
all his limbs, and in his fits it seemed to him as though 
the bones of his chest would break " One day," he tells 
us, " I walked to a neighbouring town, and sat do^v^l 
upon a settle in the street, and fell into a very deep 
pause about the most fearful state my sin had brought 
me to ; and after long musing, I lifted up my head, but 
methought I saw, as if the sun that shineth in the 
heavens did grudge to give light ; and as if the very 
stones in the street, and tiles upon the houses, did band 
themselves against me. how happy now was every 
creature over I was ! For they stood fast, and kept 
their station, but I was gone and lost." ^ Tlie devils 
gathered together against the repentant sinner; they 

loosened and falls off. He painfully climbs the steep liill of IXffiaiHy, 
and reaches a great castle, where Watchful, the guardian, gives him in 
charge to his good daughters Piety and Prudence^ who warn him and 
arm him against the monsters of hell. He finds his road barred by 
one of these demons, Apollyon, who bids him abjure obedience to the 
heavenly King. After a long fight he conquers him. Yet the way 
grows narrow, the shades fall thicker, sulphurous flames rise along the 
road : it is the valley of the Shadow of Death, Ho passes it, and 
arrives at the town of Vanity, a vast fair of business, deceits, and sliows, 
which he walks by with lowered eyes, not wishing to take part in its 
festivities or falsehoods. The people of the place beat him, throw him 
into prison, condemn him as a traitor and rebel, burn his companion 
FaitJifuX. Escaped from their hands, he falls into those of Oiant 
Despair, who beats him, leaves him in a poisonous dungeon without 
food, and giving him daggers and cords, advises liim to rid himself from 
so many misfortunes. At last he reaches the Delectable Mountains^ 
whence he sees the holy city. To enter it he has only to cross a deep 
river, where there is no foothold, where the water dims the sight, and 
which is called the river of Death. 

^ Banyan's Grace abounding to the C^ief of Sinners, §187. 

230 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

choked his sight, besieged him with phantoms, yelled at 
his side to drag him down their precipices ; and the 
black valley into which the pilgrim plunges, almost 
matches by the horror of its symbols the agony of the 
terrors by which he is assailed : — 

*' I saw then in my Dream, bo far as this Valley reached, there 
was on the right hand a very deep Ditch ; that Ditch is it into 
which the blind have led the blind in all ages, and have both 
there miserably perished. Again, behold on the lefl hand, there 
was a very dangerous Quag, into which, if even a good man 
falLi, he can find no bottom for his foot to stand on. . . . 

** The i)ath-way was here also exceeding narrow, and therefore 
good Ciiristian was the more put to it ; for when he sought in 
the dark to shun the ditch on the one hand, he was ready to tip 
over into the mire on the other ; also when he sought to escape 
the mire, without great carefulness he would be ready to fall 
into the ditch. Thus he went on, and I heard him here sigh 
bitterly; for, besides the dangers mentioned above, the path- 
way was here so dark, that ofttimes, when he lift up his foot to 
set forward he knew not where, or upon what he should set it 

" About the midst of this Valley, I perceived the mouth of 
Hell to be, and it stood also hard by the wayside. Now, 
thought Christian, what shall I do ? And ever and anon the 
flame and smoke would come out in such abundance, with 
sparks and hideous noises. . . . that he w^as forced to put up his 
Sword, and betake himself to another weapon, called All-prayer. 
So he cried in my hearing : " Lord, I beseech thee deliver my 
soul." Thus ho went on a great while, yet still the flames 
would be reaching towards him : Also he heard doleful voices, 
and nishings to and fro, so that sometimes he thought he should 
be torn in pieces, or trodden down like mire in the Streets." ^ 

^ PihjrirrCa Progress, Cambridge 1862, First Part, p. 64. 


Against this agony, neither his good deeds, nor his 
prayers, nor his justice, nor all the justice and all the 
prayers of all other men, could defend him. Grace 
alone justifies. God must impute to him the purity of 
Christ, and save him by a free choice. What can be 
more fuU of passion than the scene in which, under the 
name of his poor pilgrim, he relates his own doubts, his 
conversion, his joy, and the sudden change of his heart ? 

'' Then the water stood in mine eyes, and I asked further, 
But, Lord, may such a great sinner as I am be indeed ac- 
cepted of thee, and be saved by thee ? And I heard him say. 
And him that cometh to me I wUl in no wise cast out. . . . And 
now was my heart full of joy, mine eyes full of tears, and mine 
affections running over with love to the Name, People, and 
Ways of Jesus Christ. . . . 

^* It made me see that all the World, notwithstanding all the 
righteousness thereof, is in a state of condenmation. It made 
me see that God the Father, though he be just, can justly 
justify the coming sinner. It made me greatly ashamed of the 
vileness of my former life, and confounded me with the sense 
of mine own ignorance ; for there never came thought into my 
heart before now, that shewed me so the beauty of Jesus Christ. 
It made me love a holy life, and long to do something for the 
Honour and Glory of the Name of the Lord Jesus ; yea, I 
thought that had I now a thousand gallons of blood in my body, 
I could spill it all for the sake of the Lord Jesus." ^ 

Such an emotion does not weigh literary calculations. 
Allegory, the most artificial kind, is natural to Bunyan. 
If he employs it here, it is because he does so through- 
out ; if he employs it throughout, it is from necessity, 
not choice. As children, countrymen, and all uDculti- 
vated minds, he transforms arguments into parables ; he 

1 Pilgrim's Progress, First Part, p. 160. 

232 THE RENAISSANCE, book n. 

only grasps truth when it is clothed in images ; abstract 
temis elude hiin ; he must touch forms and contemplate 
colours. Dry general truths are a sort of algebra, 
acquired by the mind slowly and after much trouble, 
against our primitive inclination, which is to observe 
detailed events and visible objects ; man being in- 
capable of contemplating pure formulas until he is 
transformed by ten years' reading and reflection. We 
understand at once tlie term purification of heart; 
Bunyan understands it fully only, after translating it 
by this fable : — 

" Then the Interpreter took Christian by the hand, and led 
him into a very large Parlour that was full of dust, because 
never swept ; the which after he had reviewed a little while, 
the Interpreter called for a man to sweep. Now when he began 
to sweep, the dust began so abundantly to ily about, that 
Christian had almost therewith been choaked. Then said the 
Interpreter to a Damsel that stood by, Bring hither the Water, 
and sprinkle the Room ; the which when she had done, it was 
swept and cleansed wnth pleasure. 

" Then said Christian, What means this 1 

*' The Interpreter answered. This Parlour is the heart of a man 
that was never sanctified by tlie sweet Grace of the Gospel : the 
dust is his Original Sin, and inward Corruptions, that have 
defiled the whole man. He that began to sweep at first, is the 
Law ; but she that brought water, ami did sprinkle it, is the 
Gospel. Now, whereas thou sawest that so soon as the first 
began to sweep, the dust did so fly about that the Room by him 
could not be cleansed, but that thou wast almost choaked there 
with ; this is to shew thee, that the Law, instead of cleansing 
the heart (by its working) from sin, doth revive, put strength 
into and increase it in the soul, even as it doth discover and 
forbid it for it doth not give power to subdue. 

*^ Again, as thou sawest the Damsel sprinkle the room with 


Water, upon which it was cleansed with pleasure ; this is to shew 
thee that when the Gospel comes in the sweet and preciona 
InfluenceB thereof to the heart, then I say, even as thou sawest the 
Damsel lay the dust fay sprinkling the floor with Water, so is sin 
vanquished and subdued, and the soul made clean, through the 
faith of it, and consequently fit for the King of 6I017 to in- 
habit." • 

These repetitions, embarrassed phrases, familiar com- 
parisons, this artless style, whose awkwardness recalls 
the childish periods of Herodotus, and whose simplicity 
recalls tales for children, prove that if his work is alle- 
gorical, it. is so in order that it may be int^Uigible, and 
that fiuuyaQ is a poet because he is a child.^ 

If you study him well, however, you will find power 
under his simplicity, and in his puerility the vision. 
These allegories are hallucinations as clear, complete, 
and sound as ordinary perceptious. No one but Spen- 
ser is so lucid. Imaginary objects rise of themselves 
before him. He has no trouble in calliug them up 01 
forming them. They ^ree in all their details with all 

' PilgrivCi /Vojtms, Firat Part, p. 28. 

* Here is another of hia allegories, almost witty, to just and 
dmple it is. See Pilgrim'i Progrta, First Part, p. 68 : Now 1 saw in 
my Dream, that at the end of tliia Valley lay blooJ, bonea, aahes, and 
mangled bodies of men, even of Pilgrims that had gone this way 
formerly ; and while I was musing what should be the reason, I espied 
a little before me a Cave, where two Giants, Pope and Pagan, dwelt in 
old time ; by whose power and tyranny the men whose bones, blood, 
aabe*, etc., lay there, were cruelly put to death. But by this place 
Christian went without mu{^h danger, whereat I somewhat wondered ; 
but I have leomt since, that Pagan has been dead many a day ; and as 
for the other, though be be yet aliye, he is by reason of age, and also 
of the many shrewd bmahes that he met with in his younger days, 
grown so crazy, and stiff in hia joints, that he can now do little more 
than ait in his Cave's month, grinning at Pilgrima as they go by, and 
biting his nails, because he cannot come at them. 

234 THE RENAISSANCE. book il 

the details of the precept which they represent, as a 
pliant veil fits the body which it covers. He distin- 
guishes and arranges all the parts of the landscape — 
here the river, on the right the castle, a flag on its left 
turret, the setting sun three feet lower, an oval cloud in 
the front part of the sky — with the preciseness of a 
land-surveyor. We fancy in reading him that we are 
looking at the old maps of the time, in which the 
striking features of the angular cities are marked on the 
copperplate by a tool as certain as a pair of compasses.^ 
Dialogues flow from his pen as in a dream. He does 
not seem to be thinking ; we should even say that he 
was not himself there. Events and 8i)eeches seem to 
grow and dispose themselves within him, independently 
of his will. Nothing, as a rule, is colder than the 
characters in an allegory ; his are living. Looking 
upon these details, so small and famUiar, illusion gains 
upon us. Giant Despair, a simple abstraction, becomes 
as real in his hands as an English gaoler or farmer. 
He is heard talking by night in bed with his wife 
Diffidence, who gives him good advice, because here, as 
in other households, the strong and brutal animal is the 
least cunning of the two : — 

*^ Then she counselled him that when he arose in the morning 
he should (take the two prisoners and) beat them without mercy. 
So when he arose, he getteth him a giievous Crab-tree Cudgel, 
and goes down into the Dungeon to them, and there first falls 
to rating of them as if they were dogs, although they gave him 
never a word of distaste. Then he falls upon them, and beats 
them fearfully, in such sort, that they were not able to help 
themselves, or to turn them upon the floor." ^ 

* For instance, Hollar's work, CUks of Germany. 
• Pilgrim* 8 Progrets, First Part, p. 126. 


This stick, chosen with a forester's experience, this 
instinct of rating first and storming to get oneself into 
trim for knocking down, are traits which attest the 
sincerity of the narrator, and succeed in persuading the 
reader. Bunyan has the copiousness, the tone, the ease, 
and the clearness of Homer ; he is as close to Homer 
as an Anabaptist tinker could be to an heroic singer, a 
creator of gods. 

I err ; he is nearer. Before the sentiment of the 
sublime, inequalities are levelled. The depth of emotion 
raises peasant and poet to the same eminence ; and here 
also, allegory stands the peasant in stead. It alone, in 
the absence of ecstasy, can paint heaven ; for it does 
not pretend to paint it : expressing it by a figure, it 
declares it invisible, as a glowing sun at which we 
cannot look straight, and whose image we observe in a 
mirror or a stream. The ineffable world thus retains 
aU its mystery ; warned by the allegory, we imagine 
splendours beyond all which it presents to us ; we feel 
behind the beauties which are opened to us, the infinite 
which is concealed ; and the ideal city, vanishing as 
soon as it appears, ceases to resemble the material 
Whitehall imagined for Jehovah by Milton. Read the 
arrival of the pilgrims in the celestial land. Saint 
Theresa has nothing more beautiful : — 

" Yea, here they heard continually the singing of Birds, and 
saw every day the Flowers appear in the earth, and heard the 
voice of the Turtle in the land. In this Country the Sun 
shineth night and day. . . . Here they were within sight of the 
City they were going to, also here met them some of the inhabit- 
ants thereof; for in this land the Shining Ones commonly 
walked, because it was upon the borders of Heaven. . . . Here 
they heard voices from out of the City, loud voices, saying, ' Say 

236 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

ye to the daughter of Zion, Behold thy salvation cometh, behold 
his reward is with him ! ' Here all the inhabitants of the 
Country called them * The holy People, The redeemed of the 
Lord, Sought out, etc.* 

" Now as they walked in this land, they had more rejoicing 
than m parts more remote from the Kingdom to which they were 
bound; and drawing near to the City, they had yet a more 
perfect view thereof. It was builded of Pearls and Precious 
Stones, also the Street thereof was paved with gold ; so that by 
reason of the natural glory of the City, and the reflection of the 
Sun-beams upon it. Christian with desire fell sick ; Hopeful also 
had a fit or two of the same disease. Wherefore here they lay 
by it a while, crying out because of their pangs, * If you see my 
Beloved, tell him that I am sick of love.' ^ . . . 

" They therefore went up here with much agility and speed, 
though the foundation upon which the City was framed was 
higher than the Clouds. They therefore went up through the 
Regions of the Air, sweetly talking as they went, being com- 
forted, because they safely got over the River, and had such 
glorious Companions te attend them. 

" The talk that they had with the Shining Ones was about the 
glory of the place, who told them that the beauty and glory of 
it was inexpressible. There, said they, is the Mount Sion, the 
heavenly Jerusalem, the innumerable company of Angels, and the 
Spirits of just men made perfect. You are going now, said they, 
to the Paradise of God, wherein you shall see the Tree of Life, 
and eat of the never-fading fruits tliereof ; and when you come 
there, you shall have white Robes given you, and your walk and 
talk shall be every day witli the King, even all the days of 
Eternity. 2 

" There came out also at this time to meet them, several of 
the King's Trumpeters, cloathed in white and shining Raiment, 
who with melodious noises and loud, made even the Heavens to 
echo with their sound. These Trumpeters saluted Christian 

> Pilgrim's Progress, First Part, p. 174. « Ibid, p. 179. 


and his fellow with ten thousand welcomes from the World, and 
this they did with shouting and sound of Trumpet. 

" This done, they compassed them round on every side ; some 
went before, some behind, and some on the right hand, some on 
the left (as 't were to guard them through the upper Regions), 
continually sounding as they went with melodious noise, in notes 
on high ; so that the very sight was to them that could behold 
it, as if Heaven itself was come down to meet them. . . . 

" And now were these two men as 't were in Heaven before 
they came at it, being swallowed up with the sight of Angels, 
and with hearing of their melodious notes. Here also they had 
the City itself in view, and they thought they heard all the Bells 
therein ring to welcome them thereto. But above all the warm 
and jojrful thoughts that they had about their own dwelling 
there, with such company, and that for ever and ever. Oh by 
what tongue or pen can their glorious joy be expressed ! '* ^ . . . 

" Now I saw in my Dream that these two men went in at 
the Grate ; and lo, as they entered, they were transfigured, and 
they had Raiment put on that shone like Crold. There was also 
that met them with Harps and Crowns, and gave them to them, 
the Harps to praise withal, and the Crowns in token of honour. 
Then I heard in my Dream that all the Bells in the City rang 
again for joy, and that it was said unto them, ' Enter ye into 
the joy of your Lord.' I also heard the men themselves, that 
they sang with a loud voice, saying, * Blessing, Honour, Glory, 
and Power, be to him that sitteth upon the Throne, and to the 
Lamb for ever and ever.' 

" Now, just as the Gates were opened to let in the men, I 
looked in after them, and behold, the City shone like the Sun ; 
the Streets also were paved with Gold, and in them walked 
many men, with Crowns on their heads, Palms in their hands, 
and golden Harps to sing praises withal 

'^ There were also of them that had wings, and they answered 
one another without intermission, saying, * Holy, holy, holy, is 

1 PUgrinCa Progress, First Part, p. 182. 

238 THE RENAISSANCE. book ii. 

the Lord.' And after that they shut up the Gates. Which 
when I had seen, I wished myself among them." ^ 

He was imprisoned for twelve years and a half ; in 
his dungeon he made wire-snares to support himself 
and his family ; he died at the age of sixty in 1688. 
At the same time Milton lingered obscure and blind. 
The last two poets of the Reformation thus survived, 
amid the classical coldness which then dried up English 
literature, and the social excess which then corrupted 
English morals. " Shorn hypocrites, psalm-singers, 
gloomy bigots," such were the names by which men who 
reformed the manners and renewed the constitution of 
England were insulted. But oppressed and insulted as 
they were, their work continued of itself and without 
noise underground ; for the ideal which they had raised 
was, after all, that which the clime suggested and 
the race demanded. Gradually Puritanism began to 
approach the world, and the world to approach Puritan- 
ism. Tlie Restoration was to fall into evil odour, the 
Revolution was to come, and beneath the gradual pro- 
gress of national sympathy, as well as under tlie in- 
cessant effort of public reflection, parties and doctrines 
were to rally around a free and moral Protestantism. 

* PilgrivVs Progress, First Part, p. 183, etc. 



Os the bordera of the licentious Benaiss&nce vbich 
was drawing to a close, and of tlie exact school of 
poetiy which was springing up, between the mono- 
tonous conceits of Cowley and the correct gallantries 
of Waller, appeared a mighty and superb mind, prepared 
by logic and enthusiasm for eloquence and the epic 
style ; liberal, Protestant, a moralist and a poet, adorn- 
ing the cause of Algernon Sidney and Locke with the 
inspiration of Spenser and Shakapeare ; the heir of a 
poetical age, the precursor of au austere age, holding 
his place between the epoch of unselfish dreaming and 
the epoch of practical action; like his own Adam, who, 
taking his way to an unfriendly land, heard behind 
him, in the closed Eden, the dying strains of heaven. 

John Milton was not one of those fevered souls 
void of self-command, whose rapture takes them by fits, 
whom a sickly sensibility drives for ever to the extreme 
of sorrow or joy, whose pliability prepares them to pro- 
duce a variety of characters, whose inquietude condemns 
them to paint the madness and contradictions of passion. 
Vast knowledge, close log}c, and grand passion ; these 
were hie marks. His mind was lucid, bis im^ination 
limited. He was incapable of " bating one jot of heart 
or hope," or of being transformed. He conceived the 

240 . THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

loftiest of ideal beauties, but he conceived only one. 
He was not bom for the drama, but for the ode. He 
does not create souls, but constructs arguments, and 
experiences emotions. Emotions and arguments, all 
the forces and actions of his soul, assemble and are 
arranged beneatli a unique sentiment, that of tlie 
sublime ; and tlie broad river of lyric poetry streams 
from him, impetuous, with even flow, splendid as a 
cloth of gold. 


This dominant sense constituted the greatness and 
the firmness of his character. Against external fluc- 
tuations he found a refuge in himself; and the ideal 
city which he had built in his soul, endured impregnable 
to all assaults. It is too beautiful, this inner city, for 
him to wish to leave it ; it was too solid to be destroyed. 
He believed in the sublime with the whole force of his 
nature, and the whole authority of his logic ; and with 
him, cultivated reason strengthened by its tests the 
suggestions of primitive instinct. With this double 
armour, man can advance firmly through life. He who 
is always feeding himself with demonstrations is capable 
of believing, willing, persevering in belief and will ; he 
does not change with every event and every passion, 
as that fickle and pliable being whom we call a poet ; 
he remains at rest in fixed principles. He is capable 
of embracing a cause, and of continuing attached to it, 
whatever may happen, spite of all, to the end. No 
seduction, no emotion, no accident, no change alters the 
stability of his conviction or the lucidity of his know- 
ledge. On the first day, on the last day, during the 
whole time, he preserves intact the entire system of 

CHAP. vr. MILTON. 241 

his clear ideas, and the logical vigour of Lis brain sus- 
tains the manly vigour of his heart. When at length, 
as here, this close logic is employed in the service of noble 
ideas, enthusiasm is added to constancy. The nian 
holds his opinions not only as true, but as sacred. He 
fights for them, not only as a soldier, but as a priest 
He is impassioned, devoted, rehgious, lieroic. Barely 
is such a mixture seen ; but it was fully seen in 

He was of a family in which courage, moral nobility, 
the love of art, were present to whisper the most 
beautiful and eloquent words around his cradle. His 
mother was a most exemplary woman, well known 
through all the neighbourhood for her benevolence.' His 
father, a student of Christ Church, and disinherited 
as a Protestant, had made his fortmie by his own 
enei^es, and, amidst his occupations as a scrivener or 
writer, had preserved the taste for letters, being unwill- 
ing to give up " his liberal and intelligent tastes to the 
extent of becoming altogether a slave to the world ;" 
he wrote verses, was an excellent musician, one of the 
best composers of his time ; he chose Cornelius Jansen 
to paint his son's portrait when in his tenth year, and 
gave his child the widest and fullest literary education.' 
Let the reader try to picture this child, in the street 
(Bread Street) inhabited by merchants, in this citizen- 
Kke and scholarly, religious and poetical family, whose 
manners were regular and their aspirations lofty, where 
they set the psahns to music, and wrote madrigals in 

I Matnprobatisaim&eteleemoiiTniBpervicmiun potisaimiUQnota. — 
DtfenMo Siamda. Life of Milton, by Keightlej. 

* ** Mj father destined me vUle yet a little child for the stady of 
himune letters. "—Xi/t, 1)7 Haason, ISSB, L Gl. 

VOL. n. R 

242 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

honour of Oriana the queen/ where vocal music, letters, 
painting, aU the adornments of the beautiful Eenaissance, 
decked the sustained gravity, the hard-working honesty, 
the deep Christianity of the Reformation. All Milton's 
genius springs from this ; he carried the splendour of 
the Eenaissance into the earnestness of the Reformation, 
the magnificence of Spenser into the severity of Calvin, 
and, with his family, found himself at the confluence 
of the two civilisations which he combined. Before he 
was ten years old he had a learned tutor, " a puritan, 
who cut his hair short;" after that he went to Saint 
Paul's school, then to the University of Cambridge, 
that he might be instructed in " polite literature ;" and 
at the age of twelve he worked, in spite of his weak 
eyes and headaches, until midnight and even later. 
His John the Baptist, a character resembling himself, 

" When I was yet a child, no childish play 
To me was pleasing ; all my mind was set 
Serious to learn and know, and thence to do, 
What might be public good ; myself I thought 
Bom to that end, bom to promote all truth, 
All righteous things." ^ 

At school, afterwards at Cambridge, then with his 
father, he was strengthening and preparing himself with 
all his power, free from all blame, and loved by all good 
men; traversing the vast fields of Greek and Latin 
literature, not only the great writers, but all the writers, 
down to the half of the middle-age ; and studying simul- 
taneously ancient Hebrew, Syriac and rabbinical He- 

^ Queen Elizabeth. 

• Tke Poetical Works of John Miltotif ed. Mitford, Paradise Re- 
gained. Book L L 201-206. 


brew, French and Spanish, old English literature, all the 
Italian literature, with such zeal and profit that he wrote 
ItaUan and Latin verse and prose like an Italian or a 
Boman ; in addition to this, music, mathematics, theo- 
logy, and much besides. A serious thought regulated 
this great toU. " The church, to whose service, by the 
intentions of my parents and friends, I was destined of a 
child, and in mine own resolutions : till coming to some 
maturity of years, and perceiving what tyranny had 
invaded the church, that he who would take orders 
must subscribe slave, and take an oath withal, which 
unless he took with a conscience that would retch, he 
must either straight perjure, or split his faith ; I thought 
it better to prefer a blameless silence before the sacred 
office of speaking bought, and begun with servitude and 

He refused to be a clergyman from the same feelings 
that he had wished it ; the desire and the renunciation 
all sprang from the saifie source — a fibced resolve to act 
nobly. Falling back into the life of a layman, he 
continued to cultivate and perfect himself, studying 
passionately and with method, but without pedantry 
or rigour: nay, rather, after his master Spenser, in 
L Allegro, U Penseroso, Comvs, he set forth in sparkling 
and variegated dress the wealth of mythology, nature, 
and fancy; then, sailing for the land of science and 
beauty, he visited Italy, made the acquaintance of 
Grotius and Galileo, sought the society of the learned, 
the men of letters, the men of the world, listened to 
the musicians, steeped himself in all the beauties 
stored up by the Eenaissance at Florence and Eome. 

^ Milton's Prose Works, ed. Mitford, 8 vols., The Reason of Church 
Oovemmeni, L 150. 

244 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

Everywhere his learning, his fine Italian and Latin 
style, secured him the friendship and attentions of 
scholars, so that, on his return to Florence, he "was 
as well received as if he had returned to his native 
country." He collected books and music, which he 
sent to England, and thought of traversing Sicily and 
Greece, those two homes of ancient letters and arts. 
Of all the flowers that 6pened to the Southern sun 
under the influence of the two great Paganisms, he 
gathered freely the balmiest and the most exquisite, 
but without staining himself with the mud which 
surrounded them. "I call the Deity to witness," 
he wrote later, " that in all those places in which vice 
meets with so little discouragement, and is practised 
with so little shame, I never once deviated from the 
paths of integrity and virtue, and perpetually reflected 
that, though my conduct might escape the notice of 
men, it could not elude the inspection of God."^ 

Amid the licentious gallantries and inane sonnets 
like those which the Cicisbei and Academicians 
lavished forth, he retained his sublime idea of poetry : 
he thought to choose a heroic subject from ancient 
English history ; and as he says, " I was confirmed 
in this opinion, that he who would not be frus- 
trate of his hope to write well hereafter in laudable 
things, ought himself to be a true i)oem ; that is, a 
composition and pattern of the best and honourablest 
things ; not presuming to sing high praises of heroic 
men, or famous cities, unless he have in himself the 
experience and the practice of all that which is praise- 

* Milton's Prose Works (Bohn's edition, 1848), Second Defejioe of the 
People of Englaridy i. 257. See also his Italian Sonnets, with their 
religious sentiment. 

CHAP. n. MILTON. 243 

worthy."' Above all, he loved Dajite and Petrarch 
for their purity, telling himself that " if unchaatity in 
a woman, whom St Paul terms the glory of man, be 
such a scandal and dishonour, then certainly in a man, 
who is both the im^e and glory of God, it must, 
though commonly not so thought, be much more deflour- 
ing and dishonourable."* He thought " that every free 
and gentle spirit, without that oath, ought to be bom 
a knight," for the practice and defence of chastity, and 
he kept himself virgin tiU his marriage. Wliatever 
the temptation might be, whatever the attraction or 
fear, it found him equally opposed and equally firm. 
From a sense of gravity and propriety he avoided all 
religious disputes ; but if his own creed were attacked, 
he defended it " without any reserve or fear," even in 
Eome, before the Jesuits who plotted against him, 
within a few paces of the Inquisition and the Vatican. 
Perilous duty, instead of driving him away, attracted him. 
When the Kevohition began to threaten, he returned, 
drawn by conscience, as a soldier who hastens to danger 
when he hears the clash of arms, convinced, as he him- 
self tells us, that it was a shame to him leisurely to 
spend his life abroad, and for Ms own pleasure, whilst 
his fellow-countrymen were striving for their liberty. 
In battle he appeared in the front ranks as a volunteer, 
courting danger everywhere. Throughout his education 
and throughout his youth, in his profane readings and 
hia sacred studies, in his acts and his maxims, already 
a ruling and permanent thought grew manifest — the re- 
solution to develop and unfold within liiTn the ideal man. 

' Hilton's Prote WorJa, Uitford, Apology /or Smtaymnvaa, L 270. 
• Ibid. 273. See also hta TreaHat aa ZHvortt, which shows dearlj 
Milton's meaning. 

246 THE RENAISSANCE. book ii. 


Two powers chiefly lead mankind — impulse and 
idea : the one influencing sensitive, imfettered, poetical 
souls, capable of transformations, like Shakspeare; the 
other governing active, combative, heroic souls, capable 
of immutability, like Milton. The first are sympathetic 
and effusive; the second are concentrative and resen^ed.^ 
The first give themselves up, the others withhold them- 
selves. These, by reliance and sociability, with an 
artistic instinct and a sudden imitative comprehension, 
involuntarily take the tone and disposition of the men 
and things which surroimd them, and an immediate 
counterpoise is effected between tlie inner and the 
outer man. Those, by mistrust and rigidity, with a 
combative instinct and a quick reference to rule, 
become naturally thrown back upon themselves, and in 
their narrow limits no longer feel the solicitations and 
contradictions of their surroundings. They have 
formed a model, and thenceforth this model like a 
watchword restrains or urges them on. Like all 
powers destined to have sway, the inner idea grows 
and absorbs to its use the rest of their being. They 
bury it in themselves by meditation, they nourish it 
with reasoning, they put it in communication with the 
chain of all their doctrines and aU their experiences; 
so that when a, temptation assaUs them, it is not an 
isolated principle which it attacks, but it encounters 

^ "Though Christianity had been but slightly taught me, yet a 
certain reservedness of natural disposition and moral discipline, learnt 
out of the noblest philosophy, was enough to keep me in disdain of far 
less incontinences than this of the bordello. " — Apology for Smcdyrri' 
nuu8, Mitford, i. 272. 


the whole combination of their belief, an infinitely 
ramified combination, too strong for a sensuous seduc- 
tion to tear asunder. At the same time a man by 
habit is upon his guard; the combative attitude is 
natural to him, and he stands erect, firm in the pride 
of his courage and the inveteracy of his determination. 
A soul thus fortified is like a diver in his bell ; ^ it 
passes through life as he passes through the sea, 
imstained but isolated. On his return to England, 
Milton fell back among his books, and received a few 
pupils, upon whom he imposed, as upon himself, con- 
tinuous toil, serious reading, a frugal diet, a strict 
behaviour; the life of a recluse, almost of a monk. 
Suddenly, in a month, after a country visit, he married.^ 
A few weeks afterwards, his wife returned to her father^s 
house, would not come back to him, took no notice of his 
letters, and sent back his messenger with scorn. The 
two characters had come into collision. Nothing dis- 
pleases women more than an austere and self-contained 
character. They see that they have no hold upon it ; 
its dignity awes them, its pride repels, its preoccupa- 
tions keep them aloof; they feel themselves of less 
value, neglected for general interests or speculative 
curiosities ; judged, moreover, and that after an inflex- 
ible rule; at most regarded with condescension, as a 
sort of less reasonable and inferior beings, debarred 
from the equality which they demand, and the love 
which alone can reward them for the loss of equality. 
The " priest " character is made for solitude ; the tact, 
ease, charm, pleasantness, and gentleness necessary to 

* An expression of Jean Paul Richter. See an excellent article on 
Milton in the Nat. Review^ July 1859. 
' 1648, at the age of 85. 

248 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

all companionship, is wanting to it; we admire him, 
but we go no further, especially if, like Milton's wife, 
we are somewhat dull and commonplace,^ adding 
mediocrity of intellect to the repugnance of our 
hearts. He had, so his biographers say, a certain 
gravity of nature, or severity of mind which would 
not condescend to petty tilings, but kept him in 
the clouds, in a region which is not that of the house- 
hold. He was accused of being harsh, choleric ; and 
certainly he stood upon his manly dignity, his autho- 
rity as a husband, and was not so greatly esteemed, 
respected, studied, as he thouglit he deserved to be. In 
short, he passed the day amongst his books, and the 
rest of the time his heart lived in an abstracted and 
sublime worid of which few wives catch a glimpse, his 
wife least of aU. He had, in fact, chosen like a 
student, so much the more at random because his 
former life had been of "a well-governed and wise 
appetite." Equally like a man of the closet, he 
resented her flight, being the more irritated because 
the world's ways were imknown to him. Without 
dread of ridicule, and vriih tlie sternness of a specula- 
tive man suddenly brought into collision with actual 
life, he '\\Tote treatises on Divorce, signed them with 
his name, dedicated them to Parbament, held himself 
divorced de facto, because his wife refused to return, rfe 
pire because he had four texts of Scripture for it ; 

^ Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, Mitford, iu 27, 29, 32. " Mute 
and spiritless mate.*' ** Tlie baaliful muteness of the virgin may often- 
times hide aU the nnliveliness and natnral sloth which is really nniit 
for conversation." ** A man shall find himself bound fast to an image 
of earth and phlegm, with whom he looked to be the copartner of a 
sweet and gladsome society." A pretty woman will say in reply : I 
cannot love a man who carries his head like the Sacrament. 

CHAP. Ti. MILTON. ^ 249 

whereupon he paid court to another young lady, and sud- 
denly, seeii^ his wife on her knees and weeping, foigave 
her, took her back, renewed the dry and sad marriage- 
tie, not profiting hy experience, but on the other hand 
&ted to contract two other Tinions, the last with a wife 
thirty years younger than himself. Other parts of his 
domestic Ufa were neither better managed nor happier. 
He had taken his daughters for secretaries, and made 
them read languages which they did not imderstand, — 
a repelling task, of which they bitterly complained. In 
return, he accused them of being " undutiful and un- 
kind," of neglecting him, not caring whether they left 
him alone, of conspiring with the ser\-ants to rob him 
in their purchases, of stealing his books, so that they 
would have disposed of the whole of them. Mary, the 
second, hearing one day that he was going to be mar- 
ried, said that bis marri^e was no news ; the best news 
would he his death. An incredible speech, and one 
which throws a strange light on the miseries of this 
family. Neither circumstances nor nature had created 
him for happiness. 

They had created him for strife, and after his return 
to England he had thrown himself heartily into it, armed 
with logic, anger, and learning, protected by conviction 
and conscience. When " the liberty of speech was no 
longer subject to control, all mouths began to be opened 
gainst the bishops. ... I saw that a way was opening 
for the establishment of real liberty ; that the founda- 
tion was laying for the deliverance of man from the 
yoke of slavery and superstition ; . . . and as I had 
from my youtt studied the distinction between rel^ous 

250 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

and civil rights, ... I determined to relinquish the 
other pursuits in which I was engaged, and to transfer 
the whole force of my talents and my industry to this 
one important object." ^ And thereupon he ^vrote his 
Reformation in England, jeering at and attacking with 
haughtiness and scorn the prelacy and its defenders. 
Eefuted and attacked in turn, he became still more bitter, 
and crushed those whom he had beaten.^ Transported 
to the limits of his creed, and like a knight making a 
rush, and who pierces with a dash the whole line of 
battle, he hurled himseK upon the prince, wrote that 
the abolition of royalty as well as the overthrow of 
Episcopacy were necessary ; and one month after the 
death of Charles I., justified liis execution, replied to 
the Eikon Basilike, then to Salmasius* Defence qftlic King, 
with incomparable breadth of style and scorn, like a 
soldier, like an apostle, like a man who everywhere feels 
the superiority of his science and logic, who wishes to 
make it felt, who proudly tramples upon and crushes 
his adversaries as ignoramuses, inferior minds, base 
hearts.^ " Kings most commonly," he says, at the be- 
ginning of the EikoiwMastes, " though strong in legions, 
are but weak at arguments ; as they who ever have ac- 
customed from their cradle to use their will only as 
their right hand, their reason always as their left. 
Whence unexpectedly constrained to that kind of com- 

^ Second Defence of the People of England^ Prose Works (Bohn), 
i. 257. 

' Of Reformation touching Church Discipline in England^ and the 
Causes that hitherto have hindered it. Of Prelatical Episcopacy. The 
Reason of Church Oovernmcnt urged against Prclaty : 1641. Apology 
for Smectymnuus : 1642. 

' The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates. Eilconoklastes : 1648-9. 
Defensio Populi Anglicani : 1651. Defensio Secunda : 1654. Authoris 
pro 86 defensio, Responsio : 1655. 


bat, they prove but weak and puny adversaries." ^ Yet, 
for love of those who suffer themselves to be overcome 
by this dazzling name of royalty, he consents to *' take 
up King Charles's gauntlet," and bangs him with it in a 
style calculated to make the imprudent men who had 
thrown it down repent. Far from recoiling at the 
accusation of murder, he accepts and boasts of it. He 
vaunts the regicide, sets it on a triumphal car, decks it 
in all the light of heaven. He relates with the tone 
of a judge, "how a most potent king, after he had 
trampled upon the laws of the nation, and given a 
shock to its religion, and began to rule at his own will 
and pleasure, was at last subdued in the field by his 
own subjects, who had imdergone a long slavery imder 
him ; how afterwards he was cast into prison, and when 
he gave no ground, either by words or actions, to hope 
better things of him, was finally by the supreme coimcil 
of the kingdom condemned to die, and beheaded before 
the very gates of the royal palace. . . . For what king's 
majesty sitting upon an exalted throne, ever shone so 
brightly, as that of the people of England then did, 
when, shaking off that old superstition, which had pre- 
vailed a long time, they gave judgment upon the king 
himself, or rather upon an enemy who had been their 
king, caught as it were in a net by his own laws (who 
alone of all mortals challenged to himself impunity by 
a divine right), and scrupled not to inflict the same 
punishment upon him, being guilty, which he would 
have inflicted upon any other ? " ^ After having justi- 
fied the execution, he sanctified it ; consecrated it by 
decrees of heaven after he had authorised it by the laws 

1 Milton's Prose Works, Mitford, vol i. 329. 
' Ibid, Preface to the Defence of the People ofEnglandy vi. pp. 1, 2. 

252 THE RENAISSANCE. book ii. 

of the world ; from the support of Law he transferred 
it to the support of God. This is the God who " uses 
to throw down proud and unruly kings, . . . and 
utterly to extirpate them and all their family. By his 
manifest impulse being set on work to recover our al- 
most lost liberty, following him as our guide, and ador- 
ing the impresses of his divine power manifested upon 
all occasions, we went on in no obscure but an illus- 
trious passage, pointed out and made plain to us by God 
himself" ^ Here the reasoning ends with a song of 
triumph, and enthusiasm breaks out through the mail 
of tlie warrior. Such he displayed himself in all his 
actions and in all his doctrines. The solid files of 
bristling and well-ordered arguments wliich he disposed 
in battle-array were changed in his heart in the moment 
of triumph into glorious processions of crowTied and re- 
splendent hymns. He was transported by them, he de- 

* Mitford, vL pp. 2-3. This "Defence" was in Latin. Milton 
ends it thus : — 

" He (Gotl) has gloriously delivered you, the first of nations, from 
the two greatest mischiefs of this life, and most pernicious to virtue, 
tyranny and superstition ; he has endued you with greatness of mind to 
be the first of mankind, who after having conquered their own king, 
and having had him delivered into their hands, have not scrupled 
to condemn him judicially, and, pursuant to that sentence of condemna- 
tion, to put him to death. After the performing so glorious an action 
as this, you ought to do nothing that is mean and little, not so much 
as to think of, much less to do, anything but what is great and sub- 
lime. \Miich to attain to, this is your only way ; as you have subdued 
your enemies in the field, so to make appear, that unarmed, and in the 
highest outward peace and tranquillity, you of all mankind are best 
able to subdue ambition, avaric4^, the love of riches, and can best avoid 
the corruptions that prosperity is apt to introduce (which generally 
subdue and triumph over other nations), to show as great justice, tem- 
perance, and moderation in the maintaining your liberty, as you have 
shown coorage in freeing yourselves from slavery." — Ibid. voL vi. 


luded himself, and lived thus alone with the sublime, 
like a warrior-pontiff, who in his stiff armour, or his 
glittering stole, stands face to face with truth. Thus 
absorbed in strife and in his priesthood, he lived out 
of the worid, as blind to palpable facts as he was pro- 
tected against the seductions of the senses, placed above 
the stains and the lessons of experience, as incapable 
of leading men as of yielding to them. There was no- 
thing in him akin to the devices and delays of the 
statesman, the crafty schemer, who pauses on his way, 
experimentalises, with eyes fixed on what may turn up, 
who gauges what is possible, and employs logic for prac- 
tical purposes. Milton was speculative and chimerical. 
Locked up in his own ideas, he sees but them, is at- 
tracted but by them. Is he pleading against the 
bishops ? He would extirpate them at once, without 
hesitation ; he demands that the Presb3^rian worship 
shall be at once established, without forethought, con- 
trivance, hesitation. It is the command of God, it is 
the duty of the faithful ; beware how you trifle with 
God or temporise with faith. Concord, gentleness, 
liberty, piety, he sees a whole swarm of virtues issue 
from this new worship. Let the king fear nothing from 
it, his power will be all the stronger. Twenty thousand 
democratic assemblies will take care that his rights be 
not infringed. These ideas make us smile. We recog- 
nise the party-man, who, on the verge of the Eestoration, 
when " the whole multitude was piad with desire for a 
king," published A Ready and Easy Way to estailish a 
Free Commonwealth, and described his method at length. 
We recognise the theorist who, to obtain a law of 
divorce, only appealed to Scripture, and aimed at trans- 
forming the civil constitution of a people by changing 

254 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

the accepted sense of a verse. With closed eyes, 
sacred text in hand, he advances from consequence to 
consequence, trampling upon the prejudices, inclina- 
tions, habits, wants of men, as if a reasoning or reli- 
gious spirit -were the whole man, as if evidence always 
created belief, as if belief always resulted in practice, 
as if, in the struggle of doctrines, truth or justice gave 
doctrines the victory and sovereignty. To cap all, he 
sketched out a treatise on education, in which he pro- 
posed to teach each pupQ every science, every art, and, 
what is more, every virtue. " He who had the art and 
proper eloquence . . . -might in a short space gain 
them to an incredible diligence and courage, . . . 
infusing into their young breasts such an ingenuous 
and noble ardour as would not fail to make many of 
them renowned and matchless men."^ Milton had 
taught for many years and at various times. A man 
must be insensible to experience or doomed to illusions 
who retains such deceptions after such experiences. 

But his obstinacy constituted his power, and the 
inner constitution, which closed his mind to instruction, 
armed his heart against weaknesses. With men 
generally, the source of devotion dries up when in 
contact with life. Gradually, by dint of frequenting 
the worid, we acquire its tone. We do not choose 
to be dupes, and to abstain from the license which 
others allow themselves ; we relax our youthful strict- 
ness ; we even smUe, attributing it to our heated blood ; 
we know our own motives, and cease to find our- 
selves sublime. We end by taking it calmly, and 
we see the world wag, only trying to avoid shocks, 
picking up here and there a few little comfortable 

1 0/EduecUion, Mitford, ii. 885. 


pleasures. Not so Milton. He lived complete aad 
pure to the end, without loss of heart or weakness; 
experience could not instruct nor misfortune depress 
him ; he endured all, and repented of nothing. He 
lost his sight, by his own fault, by writing, though ill, 
and against the prohibition of his doctors, to justify the 
English people against the invectives of Salmasius. He 
saw the funeral of the Republic, the proscription of his 
doctrines, the defamation of his honour. Around him 
ran riot, a distaste for liberty, an enthusiasm for slavery. 
A whole people threw itself at the feet of a young incap- 
able and treacherous libertine. The glorious leaders of 
the Puritan faith were condemned, executed, cut down 
alive horn the gallows, quartered amidst insults ; others, 
whom death had saved from the hangman, were dug 
up and exposed on the gibbet ; others, exiles in 
foreign lands, lived, threatened and attacked by royalist 
bullies ; others again, more unfortunate, had sold their 
cause for money and titles, and sat amid the exe- 
cutioners of their former friends. The most pious and 
austere citizens of England filled the prisons, or 
wandered about in poverty and shame ; and gross vice, 
impudently seated on the throne, rallied around it a 
herd of unbridled lusts and sensualities. Milton him- 
self had been constrained to hide ; his books had been 
burned by the hand of the hangman ; even after the 
general act of indemnity he was imprisoned ; when set 
at liberty, he lived in the expectation of being 
assassinated, for private fanaticism miglit seize the 
weapon relinquished by public revenge. Other smaller 
misfortunes came to aggravate by their stings the great 
wounds which afOicted him. Confiscations, a bankruptcy, 
finally, the great fire of London, had robbed him of three- 

256 THE RENAISSANCE. book ii. 

fourths of his fortune ;^ his daughters neither esteemed 
nor respected him ; he sold liis books, knowing that his 
family could not profit by them after his death ; and 
amidst so many private and public miseries, he con- 
tinued calm. Instead of repudiating what he had done, 
he gloried in it : instead of being cast down, he increased 
in firmness. He says, in his 2 2d sonnet: 

" Cyriack, this three years day these eyes, though clear, 
To outward view, of blemish or of spot, 
Bereft of sight, their seeing have forgot ; 
Nor to their idle orbs doth day appear 
Of sun, or moon, or star, throughout the year, 
Or man, or woman. Yet I argue not 
Against Heaven*8 hand or will, nor bate one jot 
Of heart or hope ; but still bear up and steer 
Right onward. What supports me, dost thou ask ? 
The conscience, friend, to have lost them overplied 
In liberty's defence, my noble task ; 
Of which all Europe rings from side to side. 
This thought might lead me through the world's vain mask 
Content though blind, had I no other guide." ^ 

That thought was indeed his guide ; he was " armed in 
himself," and that " breastplate of diamond "^ which had 
protected him in his prime against the wounds in 
battle, protected liim in his old age against the tempta- 
tions and doubts of defeat and adversity. 

^ A scrivener caused him to lose £2000. At the Restoration he 
was refused payment of £2000 which he had put into the Excise Office, 
and deprived of an estate of £50 a year, bought by him from the pro- 
perty of the Chapter of Westminster. His house in Bread Street was 
burnt in the great fire. When he died he is said to have left about 
£1500 in money (equivalent to about £5000 now), besides household 
goods. [I am indebted to the kindness of Professor Masson for the 
collation of this note. — Tr.] 
' Milton's Poetical Works, Mitford, L Sonnet xxii. ^ Jtalian Sonnets, 



Milton lived in a small house in London, or in the 
country, at Horton, in Buckinghamshire, published his 
History of Britain, his Logic, a Treatise on True Religion 
and Heresy, meditated his great Treatise on Christian 
Doctrine. Of aU consolations, work is the most 
fortifying and the most healthy, because it solaces a 
man not by bringing him ease, but by requiring him 
to exert himself. Every morning he had a chapter 
of the Bible read to him in Hebrew, and remained for 
some time in silence, grave, in order to meditate on 
what he had heard. He never went to a place of 
worship. Independent in religion as in all else, he was 
suflScient to himself ; finding in no sect the marks of 
the true church, he prayed to God alone, without need- 
ing others* help. He studied till mid-day ; then, after 
an hour's exercise, he played the organ or the bass- violin. 
Then he resumed his studies till six, and in the even- 
ing enjoyed the society of his friends. When any one 
came to visit him, he was usually found in a room 
hung with old green hangings, seated in an arm-chair, 
and dressed neatly in black ; his complexion was pale, 
says one of his visitors, but not sallow ; his hands and 
feet were gouty ; his hair, of a light brown, was parted 
in the midst and fell in long curls ; his eyes, grey and 
dear, showed no sign of blindness. He had been very 
beautiful in his youth, and his English cheeks, once 
delicate as a young girl's, retained their colour almost 
to the end. His face, we are told, was pleasing; his 
straight and manly gait bore witness to intrepidity and 
couiage. Something great and proud breathes out yet 
from all his portraits; and certainly few men have 

VOL n. 8 

258 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

done so much honour to their kind. Thus went out this 
noble life, like a setting sun, bright and calm. Amid 
so many trials, a pure and lofty joy, altogether worthy 
of him, had been granted to him : the poet, buried 
under the Puritan, had reappeared, more sublime than 
ever, to give to Christianity its second Homer. The 
dazzling dreams of his youth and the reminiscences of 
his ripe age were found in him, side by side with 
Calvinistic dogmas and the visions of Saint John, 
to create the Protestant epic of damnation and grace ; 
and the vastness of primitive horizons, the flames of 
the infernal dimgeon, the splendours of the celestial 
court, opened to the inner eye of the soul unknown 
regions beyond the sights which the eyes of the flesh 
had lost 


I have before me the formidable volume in which, 
some time after Milton's death, liis prose works were 
collected.^ Wliat a book ! The chairs creak when you 
place it upon them, and a man who had turned its 
leaves over for an hour, would have less pain in his 
head than in his arm. As the book, so were the men ; 
from the mere outsides we might gather some notion of 
the controversialists and theologians whose doctrines 
they contain. Yet we must conclude that the author 
was eminently learned, elegant, travelled, philosophic, 
and a man of the world for his age. We think invol- 

^ 3 vols, folio, 1697-8. The titles of Milton's chief writings in 
prose are these : — Of Itefomnation in England ; The Reason of Church 
Oovemmcnt urged against Prclaiy ; Animoiivcrsions upon the Remon- 
strants' Defence; Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce; Tetrachordon ; 
Tractate on Education ; Arec>pagitica ; Tenure of Kings and Magis- 
trates ; Eikonoklastcs ; Uistory of Britain ; Defence of the People of 



untarily of the portraits of the theologians of those 
days, sevei^ faces engraved on metal by the hard artists' 
tool, whose square brows and steady eyes stand out 
in startling prominence against a dark oak panel 
We compare them to modem countenances, in which 
the delicate and complex features seem to quiver at 
the varied contact of hardly begun sensations and innu- 
merable ideas. We try to imagine the heavy classical 
education, the physical exercises, the rude treatment, 
the rare ideas, the imposed dogmas, which formerly 
occupied, oppressed, fortified, and hardened the young ; 
and we might fancy ouraelves looking at an anatomy of 
megatheria and mastodons, reconstructed by Cuvier. 

The race of living men is changed. Our mind fails 
us now-a-days at the idea of this greatness and this bar- 
barism ; but we discover that the barbarism was then the 
cause of the greatness. As in other times we might have 
seen, in the primitive slime and among the colossal ferns, 
ponderous monsters slowly wind their scaly backs, and 
tear the flesh from one another's sides with their mis- 
shapen talons ; so now, at a distance, from the height of 
our calm civilisation, we see the battles of the theologians, 
who, armed with syllogisms, bristling with texts, covered 
one another with filth, and laboured to devour each other. 

Milton fought in the front rank, pre-ordained to 
barbarism and greatness by his individual nature and 
the manners of the time, capable of displaying in high 
prominence the logic, style, and spirit of his age. It 
is drawing-room life which trims men into shape : the 
society of ladies, tlie lack of serious interests, idleness, 
vanity, security, are needed to bring men to elegance, 
urbanity, fine and light humour, to teach the desire to 
please, the fear to become wearisome, a perfect clearness, 

260 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

a finished precision, the art of gradual transitions and 
delicate tact, a taste for suitable images, continual ease, 
and choice diversity. Seek nothing like this in Milton. 
The old scholastic system was not far off; it still 
weighed on those who were destroying it. Under this 
secular armour discussion proceeded pedantically, with 
measured steps. The first thing was to propound a 
thesis; and Milton Avrites, in large characters, at the 
head of his Treatise oii IXvorce, " that indisposition, imfit- 
ness, or contrariety of mind, arising from a cause in 
nature unchangeable, hindering, and ever likely to 
hinder the main benefits of conjugal society, which are 
solace and peace, is a greater reason of divorce than 
natural frigidity, especially if there be no children, and 
that there be mutual consent." And then follow, legion 
after legion, the disciplined army of the arguments. 
Battalion after battalion they pass by, numbered very 
distinctly. There is a dozen of them together, each 
with its title in clear characters, and the little brigade 
of subdivisions which it commands. Sacred texts hold 
the post of honour. Every word of them is discussed, 
the substantive after the adjective, the verb after the 
substantive, the preposition after the verb ; interpreta- 
tions, authorities, illustrations, are simimoned up, and 
ranged between palisades of new diAdsions. And yet 
there is a lack of order, the question is not reduced to 
a single idea ; we cannot see our way ; proofs succeed 
proofs without logical sequence ; we are rather tired out 
than convinced. We remember that the author speaks 
to Oxford men, lay or cleric, trained in pretended dis- 
cussions, capable of obstinate attention, accustomed to 
digest indigestible books. They are at home in this 
thorny thicket of scholastic brambles ; they beat a path 



through, somewhat at hazard, hardened against the hurts 
which repulse us, and not having the smallest idea of 
the daylight which we require everywhere now. 

With such ponderous reasoners, you must not look 
for wit. Wit is the nimbleness of victorious reason ; 
here, because everything is powerful, all is heavy. 
When Milton wishes to joke, he looks like one of 
Cromwell's pikemen, who, entering a room to dance, 
should fall upon the floor, and that with the extra weight 
of his armour. Few things could be more stupid than his 
Animadversions upon the Bemonstrants* Defence, At the 
end of an argument his adversary concludes with this 
specimen of theological wit: "In the meanwhile see, 
brethren, how you have with Simon fished aU night, 
and caught nothing." And ]VIilton boastfully replies : 
" If we, fishing with Simon the apostle, can catch nothing; 
see what you can catch with Simon Magus ; for all his 
hooks and fishing implements he bequeathed among you." 
Here a great savage laugh would break out. The spec- 
tators saw a charm in this way of insinuating that his 
adversary was simoniacaL A little before, the latter 
says : " Tell me, is this liturgy good or evil ? " Answer : 
" It is evil : repair the acheloian horn of your dilemma, 
how you can, against the next push." The doctors 
wondered at the fine mythological simile, and rejoiced 
to see the adversary so neatly compared to an ox, a 
beaten ox, a pagan ox. On the next page the Eemon- 
strant said, by way of a spiritual and mocking reproach : 
" Truly, brethren, you have not well taken the heighth 
of the pole." Answer : " No marvel ; there be many 
more that do not take well the height of your pole, 
but will take better the declination of your altitude." 
Three quips of the same savour follow one upon the 

262 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

other; all this looked pretty. Elsewhere, Salmasius 
exclaiming " that the sun itself never beheld a more 
outrageous action" than the murder of the king, 
Milton cleverly answers, "The sun has beheld many 
things that blind Bernard never saw. But we are con- 
tent you should mention the sun over and over. And 
it will be a piece of prudence in you so to do. For 
though our wickedness does not require it, the coldness 
of the defence that you are making does." ^ The marvel- 
lous heaviness of these conceits betrays minds yet 
entangled in the swaddling-clothes of learning. The 
Reformation was the inauguration of free thought, but 
only the inauguration. Criticism was yet imbom ; 
authority still presses with a full half of its weight 
upon tlie freest and boldest minds. Milton, to prove 
that it was lawful to put a king to death, quotes 
Orestes, the laws of Publicola, and the death of Nero. 
His History of Britain is a farrago of all the traditions 
and fables. Under every circumstance he adduces a 
text of Scripture for proof; his boldness consists in 
showing himself a bold grammarian, a valorous com- 
mentator. He is blindly Protestant as others were 
blindly Catholic. He leaves in its bondage the higher 
reason, tlie mother of principles ; he has but emancipated 
a subordinate reason, an interpreter of texts. Like the 
vast half shapeless creatures, the birth of early times, 
he is yet but half man and half mud. 

Can we expect urbanity here? Urbanity is the 
elegant dignity which answers insult by calm irony, 
and respects man whilst piercing a dogma. Milton 
coarsely knocks his adversary down. A bristling ped- 
ant, bom from a Greek lexicon and a Syriac grammar, 

* A Dcfenu oflhe People of England^ Mitford vi. 21. 


Sahnasius had disgorged upon the English people a 
vocabulary of insults and a folio of quotations. Milton 
replies to him in the same style ; calling him a buffoon, 
a mountebank, ** professor triobolaris*' a hired pedant, a 
nobody, a rogue, a heartless being, a wretch, an idiot, 
sacrilegious, a slave worthy of rods and a pitchfork 
A dictionary of big Latin words passed between them. 
" You, who know so many tongues, who read so many 
books, who write so much about them, you are yet but 
an ass." Finding the epithet good, he repeats and 
sanctifies it. " Oh most drivelling of asses, you come 
ridden by a woman, with the cured heads of bishops 
whom you had wounded, a little image of the great 
beast of the Apocalypse!" He ends by calling him 
savage beast, apostate, and deviL " Doubt not that you 
are reserved for the same end as Judas, and that, 
driven by despair rather than repentance, self-disgusted, 
you must one day hang yourself, and like your rival, 
burst asimder in your belly." ^ We fancy we are listen- 
ing to the bellowing of two bulls. 

They had all a bull's ferocity. Milton was a good 
hater. He fought with his pen, as the Ironsides with 
the sword, inch by inch, with a concentrated rancour and 
a fierce obstinacy. The bishops and the king then 
suffered for eleven years of despotism. Each man re- 
called the banisliments, confiscations, punishments, the 

^ Mitford, vi 250. Salmasius said of the death of the king : 
" Horribilis nuntius aures nostras atroci vnlnere, sed magis men tea 
perculit." Milton replied : " Profecto nuntius iste horribilis aut 
gladinm multo longiorem eo quern strinxit Petrus habuerit oportet, aut 
aores istse auritissimse fuerint, quas tam longiuquo vulnere perculerit.*' 

" Oratorem tam insipidum et insulsum ut ne ex lacrymis quidem 
ejus mica salis exiguissima possit exprimi. " 

"Salmasius nova quadam metamorphosi salmacis factus est" 

264 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

law violated systematically and relentlessly, the liberty 
of the subject attacked by a well-laid plot, Episcopal 
idolatry imposed on Christian consciences, the faithful 
preachers driven into the wilds of America, or given up 
to the executioner and the stocks.^ Such reminiscences 

* I copy from Neal's History of ike Puritans^ ii. ch. viL 367, one 
of these sorrows and complaints. By the greatness of the outrage the 
reader can judge of the intensity of the hatred : — 

" The humble |>etition of (Dr.) Alexander Leighton, Prisoner in the 
Fleet, — Humbly Sheweth, 

"Tliat on Feb. 17, 1630, he was apprehended coming from sermon 
by a high commission warrant, and dragge<l along the street with bills 
and staves to London-house. That the gaoler of Newgate being sent 
for, clapt him in irons, and carried him with a strong power into a 
loathsome and niinous dog-hole, full of rats and mice, that had no light 
but a little grate, and the roof being uncovered, the snow and rain beat 
in upon him, having no bedding, nor place to make a fire, but the 
ruins of an old smoaky chimney. In this woeful place he was shut up 
for fifteen weeks, nobody being suffered to come near him, till at length 
his wife only was admitted. . That the fourth day after his commit- 
ment the pursuivant, with a mighty multitude, came to his house to 
search for Jesuits books, and used his wife in such a barbarous and 
inhuman manner as he is ashamed to express ; that they rifled every 
person and place, holding a pistol to the breast of a child of five years 
old, threatening to kill him if he did not discover the books ; that they 
broke open chests, presses, boxes, and carried away everything, even 
household stuff, apparel, arms, and other things ; that at the end of 
fifteen weeks he was served with a subpoina, on an information laid 
against him by Sir Robert Heath, attorney-general, whose dealing with 
him was full of cruelty and deceit ; but he was then sick, and, in the 
opinion of four physicians, thouglit to be poisoned, because all his hair 
and skin came off ; that in the height of this sickness the cruel sentence 
was passed upon him mentioned in the year 1630, and executed Nov. 
26 following, when he received thirty-six stripes upon his naked back 
with a threefold cord, his hands being tied to a stake, and then stood 
almost two hours in the pillory in the frost and snow, before he was 
branded in the face, his nose slit, and his ears cut off; that after this 
he was carried by water to the Fleet, and shut up in such a room that 
he was never well, and after eight years was turned into the common 


arising in powerful minds, stamped them with inexpiable 
hatred, and the writings of Milton bear witness to a 
rancour which is now maknown. The impression left 
by his Eihmoklastes^ is oppressive. Phrase by phrase, 
harshly, bitteriy, the king is refuted and accused to the 
last, without a minute's respite of accusation, the ac- 
cused being credited with not the slightest good inten- 
tion, the slightest excuse, the least show of justice, the 
accuser never for an instant digressing to or resting up- 
on a general idea. It is a hand-to-hand fight, where 
every word takes effect, prolonged, obstinate, without 
dash and without weakness, full of a harsh and fixed 
hostility, where the only thought is how to wound most 
severely and to kill surely. Against the bishops, who 
were alive and powerful, his hatred flowed more violently 
still, and the fierceness of his envenomed metaphors 
hardly sufiices to express it Milton points to them 
" basking in the sunny warmth of wealth and pro- 
motion," like a brood of foul reptiles. "The sour 
leaven of human traditions, mixed in one putrified mass 
with the poisonous dregs of hypocrisie in the hearts of 
Prelates, ... is the serpent's egg that will hatch an 
antichrist wheresoever, and ingender the same monster 
as big or little as the lump is which breeds him."" 

So much coarseness and dulness was as an outer 
breastplate, the mark and the protection of the super- 
abundant force and life which coursed in those athletic 
limbs and chests. Now-a-days, the mind being more 
refined has become feebler ; convictions, being less stem, 
have become less strong. Attention, freed from the 
heavy scholastic logic and scriptural tyranny, has be- 

> An aniwer to the EUccn BatUike, a work on the king's dde, and 
•ttributed to the king. " 0/ JU/ormation in England, tta,Hil, p. 82. 

266 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

come more inert. Belief and the will, dissolved hy 
universal tolerance and by the thousand opposing shocks 
of multiplied ideas, have engendered an exact and refined 
style, an instrument of conversation and pleasure, and 
have expelled the poetic and rude style, a weapon of 
war and enthusiasm. If we have effaced ferocity and 
dulness, we have diminished force and greatness. 

Force and greatness are manifested in MUton, dis- 
played in his opinions and his style, the sources of his 
belief and his talent. This proud reason aspired to 
imfold itself without shackles; it demanded that 
reason might unfold itself without shackles. It claimed 
for humanity what it coveted for itself, and championed 
every liberty in his every work. From the first he 
attacked the corpulent bishops, scholastic upstarts, 
persecutors of free discussion, pensioned tyrants of 
Christian conscience.^ Above the clamour of the 
Protestant Revolution, his voice was heard thundering 
against tradition and obedience. He sourly railed at 
the pedantic theologians, devoted worshippers of old 
texts, who mistook a mouldy martyrology for a solid 
argument, and answered a demonstration with a quota- 
tion. He declared that most of the Fathers were 
turbulent and babbling intriguers, that they were not 
worth more collectively than individually, that their 
councils were but a pack of underhand intrigues and 
vain disputes; he rejected their authority and their 
example, and set up logic as the only interpreter of 
Scripture.^ A Puritan as against bishops, an Independ- 
ent as against Presbyterians, he was always master 

^ 0/ Reformation in England. 

' The loss of Cicero's works alone, or those of Livy, could not be 
repaired by all the Fathers of the church. 


of his thought and the inventor of his own faith. No 
one better loved, practised, and praised the free and 
bold use of reason. He exercised it even rashly and 
scandalously. He revolted against custom, the illegiti- 
mate queen of human belief, the bom and relentless 
enemy of truth, raised his haaid against marriage, and 
demanded divorce in the case of incompatibility of 
temper. He declared that " error supports custom, 
custom countenances error; and these two between 
them, . . . with the numerous and vulgar train of 
their followers, . . . envy and cry down the industry 
of free reasoning, under the terms of humour and inno- 
vation." ^ He showed that truth " never comes into 
the world, but like a bastard, to the ignominy of him 
that brought her forth ; till Time, the midwife rather 
than the mother of truth, have washed and salted the 
infant, declared her legitimate."^ He stood out in 
three or four writings against the flood of insults and 
anathemas, and dared even more; he attacked the 
censorship before Parliament, though its own work ; he 
spoke as a man who is wounded and oppressed, for whom 
a public prohibition is a personal outrage, who is himself 
fettered by the fetters of the nation. He does not want 
the pen of a paid " licenser," to insult by its approval the 
first page of his book. He hates this ignorant and 
imperious hand, and claims liberty of writing on the 
same groimds as he claims liberty of thought : — 

" What advantage is it to be a man, over it is to be a boy at 
school, if we have only escaped the ferula, to come under the 
fescue of an imprimatur ? If serious and elaborate writings, as 
if they were no more than the theme of a grammar-lad under 
his pedagogue, must not be uttered without the cursory eyes of 

^ Lodrine and Diaciplint ofDivorUy Mitford, ii. 4. ^ Ibid, 5. 

268 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

a temporizing and extemporizing licenser l' He who ia not 
trusted with his own actions, his drift not being known to be 
evil, and standing to the hazard of law and penalty, has no great 
argument to think himself reputed in the commonwealth where- 
in he was bom for other than a fool or a foreigner. When a 
man writes to the world, he summons up all his reason and 
deliberation to assist him ; he searches, meditates, is industrious, 
and likely consults and confers with his judicious friends ; after 
all which done, he takes himself to be informed in what he 
writes, as well as any that wrote before him ; if in this, the 
most consummate act of his fidelity and ripeness, no years, no 
industry, no former proof of his abilities, can bring him to that 
state of maturity, as not to be still mistrusted and suspected, unless 
he carry all his considerate diligence, all his midnight watchings, 
and expense of Palladian oil, to the hasty view of an unleisured 
licenser, perhaps much his younger, perhaps far his inferior in 
judgment, perhaps one who never knew the labour of book 
writing ; and if he be not repulsed, or slighted, must appear 
in print like a puny with his guardian, and his censor's hand on 
the back of his title to be his bail and surety, that he is no idiot 
or seducer ; it cannot be but a dishonour and derogation to the 
author, to the book, to the privilege and dignity of learning." ^ 

Throw opeu, then, all the doors ; let there be light ; 
let every uian thiuk, and bring his thoughts to the 
light. Dread not any diveraities of opinion, rejoice in 
tliis great work ; why insult the labourers by the name 
of schismatics and sectaries ? 

" Yet these are the men cried out against for schismatics and 
sectaries, as if, wliile the temple of the Lord was building, some 
cutting, some squaring the marble, others hewing the cedars, 
there should be a sort of irrational men, who could not consider 
there must be many schisms and many dissections made in the 
quarry and in the timber ere the house of God can be built. 

^ Areopagitica, J^Iitford, iL 423-4. 



And when every stone is laid artfully together, it cannot be 
united into a continuity, it can but be contiguous in this world : 
neither can every piece of the building be of one form ; nay, 
rather the perfection consists in this, that out of many moderate 
varieties and brotherly dissimilitudes that are not vastly dispro- 
portional, arises the goodly and the graceful symmetry that com- 
mends the whole pile and structure." ^ 

Milton triumphs here through sympathy ; he breaks 
forth into magnificent images, he displays in his style 
the force which he perceives around him and in himself. 
He lauds the revolution, and his praises seem like the 
blast of a trumpet, to come from a brazen throat : — - 

" Behold now this vast city, a city of refuge, the mansion- 
house of liberty, encompassed and surrounded with his protection; 
the shop of war has not there more anvils and hammers working, 
to fashion out the plates and instruments of armed justice in 
defence of beleagured truth, than there be pens and heads there, 
sitting by their studious lamps, musing, searching, revolving new 
notions and ideas wherewith to present, as with their homage and 
their feality, the approaching reformation. . . . What could a 
man require more from a nation so pliant, and so prone to seek 
after knowledge ? What wants there to such a towardly and 
pregnant soil, but wise and faithful labourers, to make a knowing 
people, a nation of prophets, of sages, and of worthies 1 ^ . . . 
Methinks I see in mv mind a noble and puissant nation rousing 
herself like a strong man after sleep, and shaking her invincible 
locks : methinks I see her as an eagle mewing her mighty youth, 
and kindling her undazzled eyes at the full midday beam; 
purging and unsealing her long-abused sight at the fountain 
itself of heavenly radiance ; while the whole noise of timorous 
and flocking birds, with those also that love the twilight, flutter 
about, amazed at what she means, and in their envious gabble 
would prognosticate a year of sects and schisms/' ^ 

^ AreopagUica, Mitford, ii. 439. > Ibid, 437-8. > Bid. 441. 

270 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

It is Milton who speaks, and it is Milton whom he 
unwittingly describes. 

With a sincere writer, doctrines foretell the style. 
The sentiments and needs which form and govern his 
beliefs, construct and colour his phrases. The same 
genius leaves once and again the same impress, in the 
thought and in the form. The power of logic and 
enthusiasm which explains the opinions of Milton, ex- 
plains his genius. The sectary and the writer are one 
man, and we shall find the faculties of the sectary in the 
talent of the writer. 

When an idea is planted in a logical mind, it grows 
and fructifies there in a multitude of accessory and ex- 
planatory ideas which surround it, entangled among 
themselves, and form a tliicket and a forest. The 
sentences in MUton are inunense ; page-long periods are 
necessary to enclose the train of so many linked argu- 
ments, and so many metaphors accumulated around 
the governing thought. In this great travaU, heart 
and imagination are shaken; Milton exults while he 
reasons, and the words come as from a catapult, doubling 
the force of their flight by their heavy weight. I dare 
not place before a modern reader the gigantic periods 
which commence the treatise Of RrfornuUhn in Eng- 
land. We no longer possess this power of breath ; we 
only imderstand little short phrases ; we cannot fix our 
attention on the same point for a page at a time. We 
require manageable ideas ; we have given up the big 
two-handed sword of our fathers, and we only carry a 
light foil. I doubt, however, if the piercing pliraseology 
of Voltaire be more mortal than the cleaving of tliis 
iron mace : — 

^' If in less noble and ahnost meclianick arts he is not 



esteemed to deeerre the name of a compleat architect, an excel- 
lent painter, or the like, that bears not a generous mind above 
the peasantly regard of wages and hire ; much more must we 
think him a most imperfect tmd incompleat Divine, who is so 
tar from being a contemner of filthy lucre ; that his whole 
divinity is moulded and bred up in the beggarly and brutish 
hopes of a lat piebendaiy, deaneiy, or bisboprick." > 

If Michael Angelo's prophets could speak, it would 
be in this style ; and twenty times while reading it, 
we may discern the sculptor. 

The powerful logic which lengthens the periods 
sustains the images. If Shakspeare and the nervous 
poets embrace a picture in the compass of a Seeting 
expression, break upon their metaphors with new ones, 
and exhibit successively in the same phrase the same 
idea in five or six different forms, the abrupt motion of 
their winged imagination authorises or explains these 
varied colours and these mingling flashes. More con- 
nected and more master of himself, Milton develops to 
the end the threads which these poeta break. All his 
images display themselves in little poems, a sort of solid 
all^ory, of which all the interdependent parts concen- 
trate their light on the single idea which they are 
intended to embellish or demonstrate : — 

" In this manner the prelates, . . . coming from a mean and 
plebeian life on a sudden to be lords of stately palaces, rich 
furniture, delicious fare, and princely attendance, thought the 
[dain and homespun verity of Christ's gospel unfit any longer to 
hold their lordships' acquaintance, unless the poor threadbare 
matron were put into better clothes : her chaste and modest 
veU suiTOunded with celestial beams, they overlaid with wanton 
traasee, and in a flaring tire bespeckled her with all the 'gaudy 
allurements of a wbore." ° 

' Animadvenimu upon RemoTutranU' Defenee, tSUford, i. 231-5. 
■ 0/£e/orvtatimi in England, first Look, Mitford, L 23. 

272 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

PoKticians reply that this gaudy church supports royalty. 

"What greater debasement can there be to royal dignity, 
whose towering and steadfast height rests upon the unmoTable 
foundations of justice, and heroic virtue, than to chain it in a de- 
pendence of subsisting, or ruining, to the painted battlements 
and gaudy rottenness of prelatry, which want but one puflf of 
the king's to blow them down like a pasteboard house built of 
court-cards ? " ^ 

Metaphors thus sustained receive a singular breadth, 
pomp, and majesty. They are spread forth without 
clashing together, like the wide folds of a scarlet cloak, 
bathed in light and fringed with gold. 

Do not take these metaphors for an accident. 
Milton lavishes them, like a priest who in his worship 
exhibits splendours and wins the eye, to gain the heart 
He has been nourished by the reading of Spenser. 
Drayton, Shakspeare, Beaumont, all the most sparkling 
poets ; and the golden flow of the preceding age, though 
impoverished all around him and slackened within him- 
self, has become enlarged like a lake through being 
dammed up in his heart. Like Shakspeare, he imagines 
at every turn, and even out of turn, and scandalises 
the classical and French taste. 

"... As if they could make God earthly and fleshly, 
because they could not make themselves heavenly and spiritual ; 
they began to draw down all the divine intercourse betwixt God 
and the soul, yea, the very shape of God himself, into an ex- 
terior and bodily form ; . . . they hallowed it, they fiuned up 
they sprinkled it, they bedecked it, not in robes of pure innocency, 
but of pure linen, with other deformed and fantastic dresses, in 
palls and mitres, and gewgaws fetched from Aaron's old wardrobe, 

1 Of Ee/ortnation in England, second book, Mitford, i 42. 


OT the flaminB Testiy : then vaa tho priest set to con his 
motions and his postures, his liturgies and his lurries, till the 
Boul by this means, of overbodying herself, given up justly to 
fleshly delights, bated her wing apace downward ; aiid finding the 
ease she had from her Tiathle and sensuous colleague the body, 
in performance of religious duties, her pinions now broken, and 
flagging, shifted off from herself the labour of high soaring any 
more, forgot her heavenly flight, and lefl the dull and droiling 
carcase to plod on in the old road, and drudging trade of out- 
ward conformity."' 

If we did not discern here the traces of theological 
coarsenesa, we might fancy we were reading an imitator 
of tlie Fhasdo, and under the fanatical anger recognise 
the images of Plato. There ia one phrase wliich for ! 
manly heauty and enthusiasm recalls the tone of the 
Sepvblic : — " I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered .' 
virtue unexercised and unhreathed, that never sallies 
out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race ' 
where that immortal garland is to he run for, not with- 
out dust and heat." ^ But Milton is only Platonic by 
his richness and exaltation. For the rest, he is a man 
of the Senaissance, pedantic and harsh ; he insults the 
Pope, who, after the gift of Pepin le Bref, " never ceased 
baiting and goring the successors of his best lord 
Constantine, what by his harking curses and excommuni- 
cations ;'" he is mythological in his defence of the press, 
showing that formerly " no envious Juno sat cross-legged 
over the nativity of any man's intellectual offspring." * 
It matters little : these learned, familiar, grand im^es, 
whatever they he, are powerful and natural Super- 

' ClfSe/onnatwa in England, book fint, Mitfocd, L 3. 

■ Ara^tagaica, ii. 111-12. 

• 0/ JCe/ormalUm in Enghnd, book second, 40. 

* Areopoffitica, ii. 106. " Wliatsoerer time, or tho beedlees hand or 
TOL. n. T 

274 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

abundance, like crudity, here only manifests the vigour 
and lyric dash which Milton's character had foretold. 

Passion follows naturally ; exaltation brings it with 
the images. Bold expressions, exaggeration of style, 
cause us to hear the ^^brating voice of the sufiFering man, 
indignant and determined. 

" For books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain 
a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose 
progeny they are ; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest 
efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. 
I know they are as lively, and as vigorously productive, as those 
fjEibulous dragon's teeth : and being sown up and down, may 
chance to spring up armed men. And yet, on the other hand, 
unless wariness be used, as good almost kill a man as kill a good 
book ; who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, Gk)d's image ; 
but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the 
image of God, as it were, in the eye. Many a man lives a 
burden to the earth ; but a good book is the precious life-blood 
of a master-spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a 
life beyond life. It is true, no age can restore a life, whereof 
perhaps there is no great loss ; and revolutions of ages do not oft 
recover the loss of a rejected truth, for the want of which whole 
nations fare the worse. We should be wary, therefore, what 
persecution we raise against the living labours of public men, 
how we spill that seasoned life of man, preserved and stored up 
in books ; since we see a kind of homicide may be thus commit- 
ted, sometimes a martyrdom ; and if it extend to the whole im- 
pression, a kind of massacre, whereof the execution ends not 
in the slaying of an elemental life, but strikes at the ethereal 
and fifth essence, the breath of reason itself; slays an im- 
mortality rather than a life." ^ 

blind chance, hath drawn down from of old to this present, in her hnge 
drag-net, whether fish or sea-weed, shells or shrubs, unpicked, onchosen, 
those are the fathers.*' (Of Prelatical Episcopacy y Mitford, L 78.) 
' Areopagiiioa^ Und, iL 400. 

CHAP. Ti. MILTOK. 275 

This energy is sublime ; the man is equal to the cause, 
and never did a loftier eloquence match a loftier truth. 
Terrible expressions overwhelm the book-tyrauta, the 
profaners of thought, the assassins of liberty. " The 
council of Trent aad the Spanish inquisition, engender- 
ing together, brought forth or perfected those catal(^es 
and expurging indexes, that rake through the entrails 
of many an old good author, with a violation worse than 
any that could be offered to his tomb." ' Similar ex- 
pressions lash the carnal minds which believe without 
thinking, and make their servility into a religion. 
There is a passage which, by its bitter familiarity, recalls 
Swift, and surpasses him in aU. loftiness of imagination 
and genius: — 

" A man may be an heretic ia the tmth, and if he believes 
things only becaiue his pastor Bays lo, . . . the veiy truth he 
holds becomes his heresy. ... A wealthy man, addicted to his 
pleasure and to hie profits, finds reli^pon to be a traffic bo en- 
tangled, and of 80 manj piddling accounts, that of all mysteries 
he cannot skill to keep a stock going upon that trade. . . , 
What does he therefore, but resolves to give over toiling, and to 
find himself out some factor, to whose care and credit he may 
commit the whole managing of his religious affairs ; some divine 
of note and estimation that must be. To him he adheres, 
resigns the whole warehouse of his religion, with all the locks 
and keys, into his custody ; and indeed makes the very person 
of that man his religion. ... So that a man maj say his reli-- 
gion is now no more witbiu himself, but is become a dividual 
movable, and goes and comes near him, according as that good 
man frequents the bouse. He entartuns him, gives him gifts, 
feasts him, lodges him ; his religion comes home at night, prays, 
is liberally supped, tmd samptuonsly lud to sleep; rises, is 
saluted, and after the malmsey, or some well-spiced bruage, . . . 
' AreepagiUtOi Mitfoid, ii. Wi. 

276 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

his religion walks abroad at eight, and leaves his kind enter- 
tainer in the shop trading all day without his religion." ^ 

He condescended to mock for an instant, with what 
piercing irony we have seen. But irony, piercing as 
it may be, seems to him weak.^ Hear him when he 
comes to himself, when he returns to open and serious 
invective, when after the carnal believer he overwhelms 
the carnal prelate : — 

''The table of communion, now become a table of separa- 
tion, stands like an exalted platform upon the brow of the 
quire, fortified with bulwark and barricado, to keep off the 
profane touch of the laics, whilst the obscene and surfeited 
priest scruples not to paw and mammoc the sacramental bread, 
as familiarly as his tavern biscuit." ^ 

He triumphs in believing that all these profanations are 
to be avenged. The horrible doctrine of Calvin has 
once more fixed men's gaze on the dogma of reprobation 
and everlasting damnation. HeU in hand, Milton, 
menaces ; he is drunk with justice and vengeance amid 
the abysses which he opens, and the brands which he 
wields : — 

'^ They shall be thrown downe eternally into the darkest and 
deepest Gulfe of Hell, where, under the despightfuU controiUe, 
the trample and spume of all the other Damned, that in the 
anguish of their Torture shall have no other ease than to exercise 
a Raving and Bestiall Tyranny over them as their Slaves and 

, * Areapagitica, Mitford ii. 431-2. 

; * Wlien he is simply comic, he becomes, like Hogarth and Swift, 
' eccentric, rude, and farcicaL "A bishop's foot that has all his toes, 
maugre the gout, ami a linen sock over it, is the aptest emblem of the 
prelate himself ; who, being a pluralist, may, under one siu-plice, which 
is also linen, hide four benefices, besides the great metropolitan toe.'* — 
An Apology t etc. , i. 275. 

' Of ReformaLicn in, JSngland, Mitford, L 17. 


Negroni, they ehall remaine in that plight fi>r erer, the baxtt, 
the lowemuKt, the most dejected, moat under/ool, and doume- 
troddert Vaaaalt of Perdition} 

Fury here mounts to the sublime, and Michael Angelo's 
Ctirist 13 not more inexorable and vengeful 

Let us fill the measure ; let us add, as be does, tbs 
prospects of heaven to .the visions of darkuesa; the 
pamphlet becomes a hymn : 

" When I recall to mind at last, after bo many dark ages, 
wherein the huge overshadowing traia of error had almost 
swept all the stars out of the firmament of the church ; how 
the bright and blissful Befonnation (by divine power) struck 
through the black and settled night of ignorance and anti- 
christian tyranny, methinks a sovereign and reviving joy must 
needs rush into the bosom of him that reads or hears ; and the 
sweet odour of tbe returning gospel imbathe his soul with the 
fragrancy of heaven." ^ 

Overloaded with ornaments, infinitely prolonged, these 
periods are triumphant choruses of angelic alleluias 
sung hy deep voices to the accompaniment of ten thou- 
sand harps of gold. In the midst of his syllogisms, 
MiltoD prays, sustained by the accent of the prophets, 
surrounded by memories of tlie Bible, ravished with the 
splendours of the Apocalypse, but checked on the brink 
of hallucination by science and logic, on the summit 
of the calm clear atmosphere, without rising to the 
burning tracts where ecstasy dissolves reason, with a 
majesty of eloquence and a solemn grandeur never 
surpassed, whose perfection proves that he has entered 
his domain, and gives promise of the poet beyond the 
prose-writer : — 

' Of Rtfarmatim in EH^mtd, Uitford, L 71. [The old ■pelUog 
baa lieen retained in this pamage. — Ta.] * Ibid. 4. 

278 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

" Thou, therefore, that sittest in light and glory tmappToach- 
able, parent of angels and men ! next, thee I implore, omni- 
potent King, Redeemer of that lost remnant whose nature 
thou didst assume, ineffable and everlasting Love ! and thou, 
the third subsistence of divine infinitude, illumining Spirit, 
the joy and solace of created things ! one Tri-personal €k)dhead ! 
look upon this thy poor and almost spent and expiring church. 
. . . let them not bring about their damned designs, . . . 
to reinvolve us in that pitchy cloud of infernal darkness, where 
we shall never more see the sun of thy truth again, never hope 
for the cheerful dawn, never more hear the bird of morning 
sing." ^ 

" Thou the ever-begotten Light and perfect Image of the 
Father, . . . Who is there that cannot trace thee now in thy 
beamy walk through the midst of thy sanctuary, amidst those 
golden candlesticks, which have long suffered a dimness amongst 
us through the violence of those that had seized them, and 
were more taken with the mention of their gold than of their 
starry light ? . . . Come therefore, thou that hast the seven 
stars in thy right hand, appoint thy chosen priests according to 
their orders and courses of old, to minister before thee, and 
duly to press and pour out the consecrated oil into thy holy 
and ever-burning lamps. Thou hast sent out the spirit of 
prayer upon thy servants over all the land to this effect, and 
stirred up their vows as the sound of many waters about thy 
throne. ... perfect and accompUsh thy glorious acts ! . . . 
Come forth out of thy royal chambers, Prince of all the kings 
of the earth ! put on the visible robes of thy imperial m^esty, 
take up that unlimited sceptre which thy Almighty Father 
hath bequeathed thee ; for now the voice of thy bride calls 
thee, and all creatures sigh to be renewed." ^ 

This song of supplication and joy is an outpouring of 

^ Of Reformation in England^ lilitford, i. 68-69. 
^ Animadversions, etc., ibid. 220-2. 


CHAP. Ti. MILTON. 279 

Bplendotus ; and if ve search all literature, ve wiU 
haidly find a poet eqiial to this 'writer of prose. 

Is he truly a prose-writer? Entangled dialectics, 
a heavy and awkwaid nund, fanatical and ferocious 
rusticity, an. epic grandeur of sustained and supers 
abundant images, the blast and the recklessness of 
implacable and all-powerful passion, the sublimity of 
rel%iou3 and lyric exaltation ; ve do not recognise in 
these features a man bom to explain, persuade, and 
prove. The acholasticism and coarseness of the time 
have blunted or rusted his Ic^c. Imagination and 
enthusiaam carried him away and enchained him in 
metaphor. Thus dazzled or marred, he could not pro- 
duce a perfect work ; he did but write useful tracts, 
called forth by practical interests and actual bate, and 
fine isolated morsels, inspired by collision with a 
grand idea, and by the sudden burst of genius. 
Yet, in all these abandoned fragments, the man shows 
in hia entirety. The systematic and lyric spirit is 
manifested in the pamphlet as well as in the poem ; 
the faculty of embracing general effects, and of being 
shaken by them, remains the same in Milton's two 
careers, and we will see in the Paradise and Comua 
what we have met with in the treatise Of Reformation, 
and in the Animadversions on the Renumstrant. 

"Milton has acknowledged to me," writes Drydeo, 
" that Spencer was his original" In fact, by t^e 
purity and elevation of their morals, by the fulness and 
connection of their style, by the noble chivahlc senti- 
ments, and their fine classical arrangement, th^ are 

280 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

brothers. But Milton had yet other masters — ^Beaumont, 
Fletcher, Burton, Drummond, Ben Jonson, Shakspeare, 
the whole splendid English Renaissance, and behind it 
the Italian poesy, Latin antiquity, the fine Greek 
literature, and all the sources whence the English 
Renaissance sprang. He continued the great current, 
but in a manner of his own. He took their mythology, 
their allegories, sometimes their conceits,^ and dis- 
covered anew their rich colouring, their magnificent 
sentiment of living nature, their inexhaustible admira- 
tion of forms and colours. But, at the same time, he 
transformed their diction, and employed poetry in a 
new ser\dce. He wrote, not by impulse, and at the 
mere contact with things, but like a man of letters, a 
classic, in a scholarlike manner, with the assistance of 
books, seeing objects as much through previous writings 
as in themselves, adding to his images the images 
of others, borrowing and re-casting their inventions, €is 
an artist who unites and multiplies the bosses and 
driven gold, already entwined on a diadem by twenty 
workmen. He made thus for himself a composite 
and brilliant style, less natural than that of liis pre- 
cursors, less fit for effusions, less akin to the lively first 
glow of sensation, but more solid, more regular, more 
capable of concentrating in one large patch of light all 
their sparkle and splendour. He brings together like 
-^chylus, words of " six cubits," plumed and decked 
in purple, and makes them pass like a royal train before 
his idea to exalt and announce it. He introduces to us 

" The breathing roses of the wood, 
Fair silver-buBkin'd nymphs ; " ^ 

* See the Hymn on the Nativity ; amongst others, the first few 
strophes. See also Lycidas, ' Arcades, I. 82. 


and tells how 

" The gray-hooded Even, 
Like a sad votarist in palmer's weed, 
Rose from the hindmost wheels of Phoebus' wain ; " ^ 

and speaks of 

" All the sea-girt isles. 
That, like to rich and various gems, inlay 
The unadorned bosom of the deep ; " ^ 


" That undisturbed song of pure concent, 
Aye sung before the sapphire-colour'd throne. 
To Him that sits thereon, 
With saintly shout, and solemn jubilee ; 
Where the bright Seraphim, in burning row. 
Their loud-uplifbed angel-trumpets blow." ^ 

He gathered into full nosegays the flowers scattered 
through the other poets : 

" Ye valleys low, where the mild whispers use 
Of shades, and wanton winds, and gushing brooks, 
On whose fresh lap the swart-star sparely looks ; 
Throw hither aU your quaint enamelFd eyes. 
That on the green turf suck the honied showers. 
And purple aU the ground with vernal flowers. 
Bring the rathe primrose that forsaken dies. 
The tufted crow-toe, and pale jessamine. 
The white pink, and the pansy freak'd with jet. 
The glowing violet. 

The musk-rose, and the well-attired woodbine. 
With cowslips wan that hang the pensive head, 

1 Comus, I 188-190. • Ibid, I. 21-23. 

' 0(U at a Solemn Music, I, 6-11. 

282 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

And every flower that sad embroidery wears : 
Bid amaranthus all his beauty shed. 
And daffadillies All their cups with tears, 
To strew the laureat herse where Lycid lies." ^ 

When still quite young, on his quitting Cambridge, he 
inclined to the magnificent and grand; he wanted a 
great flowing verse, an ample and sounding strophe, 
vast periods of fourteen and four-and-twenty lines. He 
did not face objects on a level, as a mortal, but from on 
high, like those archangels of Goethe,^ who embrace at 
a glance the whole ocean lashing its coasts and the 
earth rolling on, wrapt in the harmony of the frater- 
nal stars. It was not life that he felt, like the masters 
of the Eenaissance, but grandeur, like ^Eschylus, and 
the Hebrew seers,^ manly and lyric spirits like his own, 
who, nourished like him in religious emotions and con- 
tinuous enthusiasm, like him displayed sacerdotal 
pomp and majesty. To express such a sentiment, 
images, and poetry addressed only to the eyes, were not 
enough; sounds also were requisite, and that more 
introspective poetry which, purged from corporeal shows, 
could reach the souL Milton was a musician; his 
hymns rolled with the slowness of a measured song and 
the gravity of a declamation ; and he seems himself to 
be describing his art in these incomparable verses, which 
are evolved like the solemn harmony of an anthem : 


But else, in deep of night, when drowsiness 
Hath locked up mortal sense, then listen I 
To the celestial sirens' harmony, 

* LyeidaSy I. 136-151. ' Faust^ Prolog im Hiynmd, 

• See the prophecy against Archbishop Laud in Lycidas, 1. 180 
" But that two-handed engine at the door 
Stands ready to smite once, and smite no more. *' 


That sit upon the nine infolded spheres, 
And sing to those that hold the vital shears. 
And turn the adamantine spindle round, 
On which the fate of Oods and men is wound. 
Such sweet compulsion doth in musick lie, 
To luU the daughters of Necessity, 
And keep unsteady Nature to her law. 
And the low world in measured motion draw 
After the heavenly tune, which none can hear 
Of human mould, with gross unpurged ear.'' ^ 

With his style, his subjects dififered ; he compacted 
and ennobled the poet's domain as well as his language, 
and consecrated his thoughts as well as his words. He 
who knows the true nature of poetry soon finds, as 
Milton said a little later, what despicable creatures 
" libidinous and ignorant poetasters " are, and to what 
reUgious. glorious, splendid use poetry can be put in 
things divine and human. " These abilities, whereso- 
ever they be found are the inspired gift of God, rarely 
bestowed, but yet to some (though most abuse) in every 
nation ; and are of power, beside the ojB&ce of a pulpit, 
to imbreed and cherish in a great people the seeds of 
virtue and public civility, to aUay the perturbations of 
the mind, and set the affections in right tune; to 
celebrate in glorious and lofty hymns the throne and 
equipage of God's ahnightiness, and what he works, and 
what he suffers to be wrought with ^high providence in 
his church ; to sing the victorious agonies of martyrs 
and saints, the deeds and triimiphs of just and pious 
nations, doing valiantly through faith against the 
enemies of Christ." ^ 

^ Arcades, I 61-78. 
' Ths Beaaon of Church GhvemmerU, book ii. Mitford, L 147. 

284 THE BENAISSANCE. book n. 

In fact, from the first, at St. Paul's School and at 
Cambridge, he had written paraphrases of the Psalms, 
then composed odes on the Nativity, Ciraimcision, and 
the Passion. Presently appeared sad poems on the Deaih 
of a Fair Infant, An Epitaph on the Marchioness of 
Winchester ; then grave and noble verses On Time, At 
a solemn Musick, a sonnet On his heina arrived to the 
Age of Twenty-three, " his late spring which no bud or 
blossom sheVth." At last we have him in the country 
with his father, and the hopes, dreams, first enchant- 
ments of youth, rise from his heart like the morning 
breath of a summer's day. But what a distance be- 
tween these calm and bright contemplations and the 
warm youth, the voluptuous Adonis of Shakespeare ! 
He walked, used his eyes, listened ; there his joys 
ended ; they are but the poetic joys of the soul ; 

" To hear the lark begin his flight, 
• And singing, startle the dull night, 
From his watch-tower in the skies, 
Till the dappled dawn doth rise ; . . . 
While the plowman, near at hand. 
Whistles o'er the furrowed land. 
And the milk-maid singeth blithe, 
And the mower whets his sithe, 
And every shepherd tells his tale 
Under the hawthorn in the dale." ^ 

To see the village dances and gaiety ; to look upon the 
high triumphs " and the " busy himi of men " in the 
tower'd cities;" above aU, to abandon himself to 
melody, to the divine roU of sweet verse, and the 
charming dreams which they spread before us in a 

. 1 VAlU^ro, I. 41-68. 



golden light ; — this is all ; and presently, as if he had 
gone too far, to counterbalance this eulogy of visible 
joys, he summons Melancholy : 

" Come, pensive Nun, devout and pure, 
Sober, stedfast, and demure, 
All in a robe of darkest grain, 
Flowing with m^jestick train. 
And sable stole of Cypress lawn 
Over thy decent shoulders drawn. 
Come, but keep thy wonted state. 
With even step, and musing gait ; 
And looks commercing with the skies. 
Thy rapt soul sitting in thine eyes." ^ 

With her he wanders amidst grave thoughts and grave 
sights, which recall a man to his condition, and prepare 
him for his duties, now amongst the lofty colonnades of 
primeval trees, whose " high-embowed roof" retains the 
silence and the twilight imder their shade ; now in 

" The studious cloysters pale, . . . 
With antick pillars massy proof. 
And storied windows richly dight, 
Casting a dim religious light ; " ^ 

now again in the retirement of the study, where the 
cricket chirps, where the lamp of labour shines, where 
the mind, alone with the noble- minds of the past, may 

" Unsphere 
The spirit of Plato, to unfold 
What worlds or what vast regions hold 
The immortal mind, that hath forsook 
Her mansion in this fleshly nook." ^ 

1 n Penmo$o, I. 81-40. » Ibid, I. 166-160. » Ibid. I 88-92. 

286 THE RENAISSANCR book n. 

He was filled with this lofty philosophy. Whatever 
the language he used, English, Italian, or Latin, what- 
ever the kind of verse, sonnets, hymns, stanzas, tragedy 
or epic, he always returned to it. He praised every- 
where chaste love, piety, generosity, heroic force. It 
was not from scruple, but it was innate in him ; his 
chief need and faculty led him to noble conceptions. He 
took a delight in admiring, as Shakspeare in creating, 
as Swift in destro3dng, as Byron in combating, as 
Spenser in dreaming. Even on ornamental poems, 
which were only employed to exhibit costumes and 
introduce fairy-tales, in Masques, like those of Ben 
Jonson, he impressed his own character. They were 
amusements for the castle; he made out of them 
lectures on magnanimity and constancy : one of them, 
Comus, well worked out, with a complete originality 
and extraordinary elevation of style, is perhaps his 
masterpiece, and is simply the eulogy of virtua 

Here at the beginning we are in the heavens. A 
spirit, descended in the midst of wild woods, repeats 
this ode : 

" Before the starry threshold of Jove's court 
My mansion is, where those immortal shapes 
Of bright aerial spirits live insphered 
In regions mild of calm and serene air, 
Above the smoke and stir of this dim spot, 
Which men call earth ; and, with low-thoughted care 
Confined, and pester'd in this pinfold here, 
Strive to keep up a frail and feverish being, 
Unmindfiil of the crown that Virtue gives. 
After this mortal change, to her true servants. 
Amongst the enthron'd €k)ds on sainted seats." ^ 

* Comus, I. 1-11. 



Such cbamcteTs cannot speak : they sing. The drama 
JB an antique opera, composed like the Prometkeus, of 
solemn hymns. The spectator is transported beyond 
the real world. He does not listen to men, but to 
sentiments. He hears a. concert, as in Shakspeare ; the 
Comus continues the Midstnniner NigMs Bream, as a 
choir of deep men's yoices continues the glowing and 
sad symphony of the instruments : 

" Through the porplex'd paths of this drear wood. 
The nodding horror of whose shady brows 
Threats the forlorn and wandering passenger," ' 

strays a noble lady, separated ftom her two brothers, 
troubled by the " sound of riot and ill-managed merri' 
meut" which she hears from afar. The son of Giice 
the enchantress, sensual Comus enters with a charming 
rod in one hand, his glass in the other, amid the clamour 
of men and women, with torches in their hands, 
" headed like sundry sorts of wOd beasts ; " it is the 
hour when 

"The Botrnds and seas, with all their finny drove, 
Now to the moon in wavering morrice move ; 
And, on the tawny sands and shelves 
Trip the pert faeries and the dapper elves."* 

The lady is terrified, and sinks on her knees ; and in the 
misty forms which float above in the pale light, perceives 
the mysterious and heavenly guardians who watch over 
her life and honour : 

"O, welcome, pure-eyed Path ; white-handed Hope, 

Thou hoveling angel, ^rt with golden wings ; 

And thon, unblendsh'd fonn of Chastity, 

< Ga«ai», I. 37-39. ' Ibid. I. llS-l]g. 

288 THE RENAISSANCE. book ii. 

I Bee ye visibly, and now believe 

That He, the Supreme good, t* whom all things ill 

Are but as slavish officers of vengeance, 

Would send a glistering guardian, if need were, 

To keep my life and honour unassaiFd. 

Was I deceived, or did a sable cloud 

Turn forth her silver lining on the night ? 

I did not err ; there does a sable cloud 

Turn forth her silver lining on the night, 

And casts a gleam over this tufted grove. "^ 

She calls her brothers in " a soft and solemn-breathing 
sound," which " rose like a steam of rich distUl'd per- 
fumes, and stole upon the air," ^ across the " violet-em- 
broider*d vale," to the dissolute god whom she enchants. 
He comes disguised as a " gentle shepherd," and says : 

" Can any mortal mixture of earth's moidd 
Breathe such divine, enchanting ravishment ? 
Sure something holy lodges in that breast. 
And with these raptures moves the vocal air 
To testify his hidden residence. 
How sweetly did they float upon the wings 
Of silence, tlirough the empty-vaulted night. 
At every fall smoothing the raven down 
Of darkness, till it smiled ! I have oft heard 
My mother Circe with the syrens three, 
Amidst the flowery-kirtled Naiades, 
Culling their ix)tent herbs and baleful drugs ; 
Who, as they sung, would take the prisoned soul. 
And lap it in Elysium : Scylla wept, 
And chid her barking waves into attention. . . . 
But such a sacred and home-felt delight. 
Such sober certainty of waking bliss, 
I never heard till now."^ 

Cofnus, I. 213-225. • Ihid. I 655-657. » Ibid, I. 244-264. 



They were heavenly songs which Comns heard ; 
Milton describes, and at the same time imitates them ; 
he makes us understand the saying of his master Plato, 
that virtuous melodies teach virtue. 

Circe's son has by deceit carried off the noble lady, 
and seats her, with " nerves all chained up," in a sump- 
tuous palace before a table spread with all dainties. 
She accuses him, resists, insults him, and the style 
assumes an air of heroical indignation, to scorn the offer 
of the tempter. 

" When luBt, 
By unchaste looks, loose gestures, and foul talk, 
But most by lewd aud lavish act of sin, 
Lets in defilement to the inward parts ; 
The soul grows clotted by contagion, 
Imbodies and imbrutes, till she quite lose 
The divine property of her first being. 
Such are those thick and gloomy shadows damp, 
Oft seen in chamel vaults and sepulchres 
Lingering, and sitting by a new-made grave. 
As loth to leave the body that it loved." ^ 

" A cold shuddering dew dips all o*er" Comus ; he pre- 
sents a cup of wine ; at the same instant the brothers, 
led by the attendant Spirit, rush upon him with swords 
drawn. He flees, carrying off his magic wand. To 
free the enchanted lady, they summon Sabrina, the 
benevolent naiad, who sits 

" Under the glassy, cool, translucent wave. 
In twisted braids of lilies knitting 
The loose train of thy (her) amber-dropping hair."^ 

The " goddess of the silver lake " rises lightly from her 

* Comus, L 463-473. It is the elder brother who utters these lines 
when speaking of his sister. — Tr. ' Ibid, I, 861-863. 


290 THE RENAISSANCE. book ii. 

"coral-paven bed," and her chariot "of turkis blue and 
emerald-green," sets her down 

" By the rushy-fringed bank, 
Where grows the willow, and the osier dank."^ 

Sprinkled by this cool and chaste hand, the lady leaves 
the *' venom'd seat " which held her spell-bound ; the 
brothers, with their sister, reign peacefully in their 
father's palace ; and the Spirit, who has conducted all, 
pronounces this ode, in which poetry leads up to philo- 
sophy ; the voluptuous light of an Oriental legend beams 
on the Elysium of the good, and all the splendours of 
nature assemble to render virtue more seductive. 

" To the ocean now I fly, 
And those happy climes that lie 
Where day never shuts his eye 
Up in the broad fields of the sky : 
There I suck the liquid air 
All amidst the gardens fair 
Of Hespenis, and his daughters three 
That sing about the golden tree : 
Along the crisped shades and bowers 
Revels the spruce and jocund spring ; 
The Graces, and the rosy-bosom'd Hours, 
Thither all their bounties bring ; 
There eternal Summer dwells, 
And west winds, with musky wing, 
About the cedar'n alleys fling 
Nard and cassia's balmy smelLs. 
Iris there with humid bow 
Waters the odorous banks, that blow 
Flowers of more mingled hew 
Than her purfled scarf can shew ; 

1 Comus, I. 890. 


And drenches with Elysian dew 
(List, mortals, if your ears be true) 
Beds of hyacinth and roses, 
Where young Adonis oft reposes, 
Waxing well of his deep wound 
In slumber soft ; and on the ground 
Sadly sits the Assyrian queen : 
But far above in spangled sheen 
Celestial Cupid, her famed son, advanced 
Holds his dear Psyche sweet entranced 
After her wandering labours long, 
Till free consent the gods among 
Make her his eternal bride. 
And from her fair unspotted side 
Two blissful twins are to be born. 
Youth and Joy ; so Jove hath sworn. 
But now my task is smoothly done, 
I can fly, or I can run 
Quickly to the green earth's end. 
Where the bow'd welkin slow doth bend ; 
And from thence can soar as soon 
To the comers of the moon. 
Mortals, that would follow me. 
Love Virtue, she alone is free : 
She can teach ye how to climb 
Higher than the sphery chime ; 
Or, if Virtue feeble were. 
Heaven itself would stoop to her."^ 

Ought I to have pointed out the awtw'^ardnesses, 
strangenesses, exaggerated expressions, the inheritance 
of the Eenaissance, a philosophical quarrel, the work of 
a reasoner and a Platonist? I did not perceive these 
faults. All was effaced before the spectacle of the bright 

1 C<mus, I. 976-1023. 

292 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

Renaissance, transformed by austere philosophy, and of 
sublimity worshipped upon an altar of flowers. 

That, I think, was his last profane poem. Already, 
in the one which followed, Lycidas, celebrating in the 
style of Virgil the death of a beloved friend,^ he suffers 
Puritan wmth and prepossessions to shine through, 
inveighs against the bad teaching and tyranny of the 
bishops, and speaks of " that two-handed engine at the 
door, ready to smite (but) once, and smite no more." 
On his return from Italy, controversy and action 
carried him away; prose begins, poetry is arrested. 
From time to time a patriotic or religious sonnet breaks 
the long silence ; now to praise the chief Piiritans, 
Cromwell, Vane, Fairfax ; now to celebrate the death of a 
pious lady, or the life of a " virtuous young lady ; " once 
to pray God "to avenge his slaughtered saints," the 
unhaj)py l^testants of Piedmont, "whose bones lie 
soiitter'd on the Alpine mountains cold;" again, on his 
second wife, dead a year after their marriage, his well- 
beloved " saint " — " brought to me, like Alcestis, fipom 
the grave, . . . came, vested all in white, pure as her 
mind ; " loyal friendships, sorrows bowed to or subdued, 
asinnitions generous or stoical, which reverses did but 
purify. Old age came; cut off from power, action, even 
hope, he returned to the grand dreams of his youth. As 
i>f old, he went out of this lower world in search of the 
sublime ; for the actual is petty, and the familiar seems 
dull. He selects his new characters on the verge of 
sacred anticjuity, as he selected his old ones on the verge 
of fabulous antiquity, because distance adds to their 
stature ; and habit, ceasing to measure, ceases also to 
depreciate them. Just now we had creatures of fancy: 

^ Edward King died in 1637. 


Joy, daughter of Zephyr and Aurora ; Melancholy, 
daughter of Vesta and Saturn; Comus, son of Circe, 
ivy-crowned, god of echoing woods and turbulent excess. 
Now we have Samson, the despiser of giants, the elect of 
Israers Grod, the destroyer of idolaters, Satan and his 
peers, Christ and his angels ; they come and rise before 
our eyes like superhuman statues ; and their far removal, 
rendering vain our curious hands, preserves our ad- 
miration and their majesty. We rise further and 
higher, to the origin of things, amongst eternal beings, 
to the commencement of thought and life, to the battles 
of God, in this unknown world where sentiments and 
existences, raised above the ken of man, elude his 
judgment and criticism to command his veneration 
and awe ; the sustained song of solenm verse unfolds the 
actions of these shadowy figures ; and then we experi- 
ence the same emotion as in a cathedral, while the 
music of the organ rolls along among the arches, and 
amidst the brilliant light of the tapers clouds of 
incense hide from our view the colossal columns. 

But if the heart remains unchanged, the genius has 
become transformed. Manliness has supplanted youth. 
The richness has decreased, the severity has increased. 
Seventeen years of fighting and misfortune have steeped 
his soul in religious ideas. Mythology has yielded to 
theology ; the habit of discussion has ended by subdu- 
ing the lyric flight ; accumulated learning by choking 
the original genius. The poet no more sings sublime 
verse, he relates or harangues, in grave verse. He no 
longer invents a personal style; he imitates antique 
tragedy or epic. In Samson Agonistes he hits upon a 
cold and lofty tragedy, in Paradise Begained on a cold 

294 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

and noble epic ; he composes an imperfect and sublime 
poem in Paradise Lost 

Would to Heaven he could have written it as he tried, 
in the shape of a drama, or better, as the Prontethenis of 
-^chylus, as a lyric opera I A peculiar kind of subject 
demands a peculiar kind of style ; if you resist, you de- 
stroy your work, too happy if, in the deformed medley, 
chance produces and preserves a few beautiful fragments. 
To bring the supernatural upon the scene, you must 
not continue in your every-day mood ; if you do, you 
look as if you did not believe in it. Vision reveals it, 
and the style of vision must express it. When Spenser 
writes, he dreams. We listen to the happy concerts of 
his aerial music, and the varying train of his fanciful 
apparitions unfolds like a vapour before our accom- 
modating and dazzled gaze. When Dante writes, he is 
rapt ; and his cries of anguish, his transports, the in- 
coherent succession of his infernal or mystical phantoms, 
carry us with him into the invisible world which he 
describes. Ecstasy alone renders visible and credible 
the objects of ecstasy. If you teU us of the exploits 
of the Deity as you teU us of Cromwell's, in a grave 
and lofty tone, we do not see God ; and as He con- 
stitutes the whole of your poem, we do not see any- 
thing. We conclude that you have accepted a tradition, 
that you adorn it with the fictions of your mind, that 
you are a preacher, not a prophet, a decorator not a 
poet. We find that you sing of God as the vulgar pray 
to him, after a formula learnt, not from spontaneous 
emotion. Change your style, or, rather if you can, 
change your emotion. Try and discover in yourself 
the ancient fervour of psalmists and apostles, to re- 
create the divine legend, to experience the sublime 


agitations by which the inspired and disturbed mind 
perceives God ; then the grand lyric verse will roll on, 
laden with splendours. Thus roused, we shall not have 
to examine whether it be Adam or Messiah who speaks ; 
we shall not have to demand that they shall be real, 
and constructed by the hand of a psychologist; we 
shall not trouble ourselves with their puerile or imlooked 
for actions ; we shall be carried away, we shall share in 
your creative madness ; we shall be drawn onward by 
the flow of bold images, or raised by the combination 
of gigantic metaphors; we shall be moved like -^chylus, 
when his thunder-stricken Prometheus hears the uni- 
versal concert of rivers, seas, forests, and created beings, 
lament with him,^ as David before Jehovah, for whom 
a thousand years are but as yesterday, who " carriest 
them away as with a flood ; in the morning they are 
like grass which groweth up." ^ 

But the age of metaphysical inspiration, long gone by, 
had not yet reappeared. Far in the past Dante was 
fading away ; far in the future Goethe lay unrevealed. 
People saw not yet the pantheistic Faust, and that incom- 
prehensible nature which absorbs all varying existence in 
her deep bosom ; they saw no longer the mystic paradise 
and immortal Love, whose ideal light envelopes souls re- 
deemed. Protestantism had neither altered nor renewed 
the divine nature ; the guardian of an accepted creed and 
ancient tradition, it had only transformed ecclesiastical 

^ u> Slot al0^p Koi raxuirrepoi. TPoal 
TorafiQp T€ Tijyaif irovrliav re KVfMdrcap 
din^pi0fiop y4\turfiCLy TOfifAijTdp re yij, 
Kol rhp Tc^&wTriP kCkXop rjXlov KoKta, 
tZeaOi /i\ ota irpb% Bcup iriax^ OeSs. 
Prometheus VinctuSy ed. Hermann, p. 487, line 88. — Tr. 
* Pa. xc. 6. 

296 THE RENAISSANCE. book u. 

discipline and the doctrine of graca It had only called 
the Christian to personal salvation and freedom from, 
priestly rula It had only remodelled man, it had not re- 
created the Deity. It could not produce a divine epic, but 
a human epic. It could not sing the battles and works 
of God, but the temptations and salvation of the souL At 
the time of Christ came the poems of cosmogony; at the 
time of Milton, the confessions of psychology. At the 
time of Christ each imagination produced a hierarchy 
of supernatural beings, and a history of the world ; at 
the time of Milton, every heart recorded the series of 
its upKftings, and the history of graca Learning and 
reflection led Milton to a metaphysical poem which was 
not the natural offspring of the age, whilst inspiration 
and ignorance revealed to Bunyan the psychological 
narrative which suited the age, and the great man's 
genius was feebler than the tinker^s simplicity. 

And why ? Because Milton's poem, whilst it sup- 
presses lyrical illusion, admits critical inquiry. Free 
from enthusiasm we judge his characters ; we demand 
that they shall be living, real, complete, harmonious, like 
those of a novel or a drama. No longer hearing odes, 
we would see objects and souls : we ask that Adam and 
Eve should act in conformity with their primitive nature ; 
that God, Satan, and Messiah should act and feel in 
conformity with their superhuman natura Shakspeare 
would scarcely have been equal to the task ; Milton, the 
logician and reasoner, failed in it. He gives us correct 
solemn discourse, and gives us nothing more; his 
characters are speeches, and in their sentiments we find 
only heaps of puerilities and contradictions. 

Adam and Eve, the first pair ! I approach, and it 
seems as though I discovered the Adam and Eve of 


Bapbael Sanzio, imitated by Milton, so his biographers 
tell us, gloiious, strong voluptuous children, naked in 
the light of heaven, motionless and absorbed before 
grand landscapes, with bright vacant eyes, with no 
more thought than the bull or the horse on the grass 
beside them. I listen, and I hear an English house- 
hold, two reasoners of the period— Colonel Hutchinson 
and his wife. Good Heavens ! dress them at once. 
People with so much culture should have invented be- 
fore all a pair of troosers and modesty. What dia- 
Ic^es I Dissertations capped by politeness, mutual 
sennonH concluded by bows. What bows ! Philo- 
sophical compliments and moral smiles. I yielded, says 

" And from that time see 
How beauty is excell'd by manly grace 
And wisdom, which alone is truly iair." ^ 

Sear learned poet, you would have been better pleased 
if one of your three wives, as an apt pupil, had uttered 
to you by way of conclusion the above solid theo- 
letical maxim. They did utter it to you; this ia a 
acene from your own household : 

" So spake our general mother ; and, with eyea 
Of conjugal attraction unreproved 
And meek eurrender, half-embracing lean'd 
On our first father ; half her swelling breast 
Naked met hia, under the flowing gold 
Of her loose tresses hid ; he, in delight 
Both of her beanty and snbmissive charms, 
Smiled with superiour love, . . . and press'd hei mjitron lip 
With kisses pure." ^ 
' Faradiie Lett, book iv. L 1S9. < Ibid. I. 1S2-S02. 

298 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

This Adam entered Paradise via England. In that 
country he learned respectability^ and studied moral 
speechifying. Let us hear this man before he has 
tasted of the tree of knowledge. A bachelor of arts, in 
his inaugural address, could not utter more fitly and 
nobly a greater number of pithless sentences : 

" Fair conBort, the hour 
Of night, and all things now retired to rest, 
Mind us of like repose ; since God hath set 
Labour and rest, as day and night, to men 
Successive ; and the timely dew of sleep, 
Now falling with soft slumbrous weight, inclines 
Our eyelids ; other creatures all day long 
Rove idle, unemploy'd, and less need rest : 
Man hath his daily work of body or mind 
Appointed, which declares his dignity, 
And the regard of Heaven on all his ways ; 
While other animals unactive range. 
And of their doings God takes no account. "* ^ 

A very useful and excellent Puritanical exhortation ! 
This is English virtue and morality; and at evening, 
in every family, it can be read to the children Kke the 
Bible. Adam is your true paterfamilias, with a vote, 
an M.P., an old Oxford man, consulted at need by his 
wife, dealing out to her with prudent measure the 
scientific explanations which she requires. This night, 
for instance, the poor lady had a bad dream, and Adam, 
in his trencher-cap, administers this learned psycho- 
logical draught : ^ 

» Paradise Lost, book iv. I. 610-622. 

* It would be impossible that a man so learned, so argnmentative, 
Mhould spend his whole time in gardening and making up nosegays. 


" Know, that in the soul 
Are many lesser faculties that serve 
Reason as chief ; among these Fancy next 
Her office holds ; of all external things, 
Which the five watchful senses represent, 
She forms imaginations, aery shapes 
Which Reason, joining or disjoining, frames 
All what we affirm or what deny, and call 
Our knowledge or opinion. . . . 
Oft in her absence mimic fancy wakes 
To imitate her ; but, misjoining shapes. 
Wild work produces oft, and most in dreams ; 
111 matching words and deeds long past or late.'' ^ 

Here was something to send Eve off to sleep again. 

Her husband noting the effect, adds like an accredited 


" Yet be not sad : 
Evil into the mind of God or man 
May come and go, so unapproved ; and leave 
No spot or blaine behind.^' ^ 

We recognise the Protestant husband, his wife's con- 
fessor. Next day comes an angel on a visit Adam 
tells Eve : 

" Go with speed. 

And, what thy stores contain, bring forth, and pour 

Abundance, fit to honour and receive 

Our heavenly stranger.* 

She, like a good housewife, talks about the fnenu, and 
rather proud of her kitchen-garden, says : 

Beholding shall confess, that here on earth 
God hath dispensed his bounties as in heaven.*' ^ 

1 Paradise Lost, book v. 1 100-113. ' Ibid. I 116-119. 

» Ibid. I 313-316. * Ibid. I. 328-330. 

800 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

Mark this becoming zeal of a hospitable lady. She 
goes " with dispatchful looks, in haste " : 

" What choice to choose for delicacy best ; 
What order, so contrived as not to mix 
Tastes, not well join'd, inel^ant ; but bring 
Taste after taste upheld with kindliest,change.'' ^ 

She makes sweet wine, perry, creams ; scatters flowers 
and leaves under the table. What an excellent house- 
wife ! What a great many votes she will gain among 
the country squires, when Adam stands for Parliament. 
Adam belongs to the Opposition, is a Whig, a Puritan. 

He '' walks forth ; without more train 
Accompanied than with his own complete 
Perfections : in himself was all his state, 
More solemn than the tedious pomp that waits 
On princes, when their rich retmue long 
Of horses led, and grooms besmeared with gold, 
Dazzles the crowd." ^ 

The epic is changed into a political poem, and we have 
just heard an epigram against power. The preliminary 
ceremonies are somewhat long ; fortunately, the dishes 
being uncooked, "no fear lest dinner cooL" The 
angel, though ethereal, eats like a Lincolnshire farmer : 

" Nor seemingly 
The angel, nor in mist, the conmion gloss 
Of theologians ; but with keen dispatch 
Of real hunger, and concoctive heat 
To transubstantiate : what redounds, transpires 
Through spirits with ease." ^ 

At table Eve listens to the angel's stories, then dis- 

1 Paradise Lost, book v. I, 333-336. 
• md. L 851-367. » Ibid. I, 434-439. 


creetly rises at dessert, when they are getting into 
politics. English ladies may learn by her example 
to perceive from their lord's faces when they are 
''entering on studious thoughts abstruse." The sex 
does not mount so high. A wise lady prefers her 
husband's talk to that of strangers. ''Her husband 
the relater she prefered." Now Adam hears a little 
treatise on astronomy. He concludes, like a practical 

" But to know 
That which before us lies in daily life, 
Is the prime wisdom : what is more, is fume. 
Or emptiness, or fond impertinence ; 
And renders us, in things that most concern, 
Unpractised, unprepared, and still to seek.'' ^ 

The angel gone, Eve, dissatisfied with her garden, wishes 
to have it improved, and proposes to her husband to 
work in it, she on one side, he on the other. He says, 
with an approving smile : 

'' Nothing lovelier can be found 
In woman, than to study household good. 
And good works in her husband to promote." ^ 

But he fears for her, and would keep her at his side. 
She rebels with a little prick of proud vanity, like 
a young lady who mayn't go out by herself. She has 
her way, goes alone and eats the apple. Here inter- 
minable speeches come down on the reader, as numerous 
and cold as winter showers* The speeches of Parliament 
after Pride's Purge were hardly heavier. The serpent 
seduces Eve by a collection of arguments worthy of 

1 Paradise Lost, book viii I 192-197. 
« Ibid, book ix. l. 232. 

302 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

the punctilious Chillingworth, and then the syllogistic 
mist enters her poor brain : 

" His forbidding 
Commends thee more, while it infers the good 
By thee communicated, and our want : 
For good unknown sure is not had ; or, had 
And yet imknown, is as not had at alL . . . 
Such prohibitions bind not." ^ 

Eve is from Oxford too, has also learned law in the 
inns about the Temple, and wears, like her husband, 
the doctor's trencher-cap. 

The flow of dissertations never ceases ; from Para- 
dise it gets into heaven : neither heaven nor earth, nor 
hell itself, would swamp it. 

Of aU characters which man could bring upon the 
scene, God is the finest. The cosmogonies of peoples 
are sublime poems, and the artists' genius does not 
attain perfection until it is sustained by such con- 
ceptions. The Hindoo sacred poems, the Biblical 
prophecies, the Edda, the Olympus of Hesiod and 
Homer, the visions of Dante, are glowing flowers from 
which a whole civilisation blooms, and every emotion 
vanishes before the terrible feeling through which they 
have leapt from the bottom of our heart. Nothing 
then can be more depressing than the degradation of 
these noble ideas, settling into the regularity of formulas, 
and under the discipline of a popular worship. What 
is smaller than a god sunk to the level of a king and a 
man ? what more repulsive than the Hebrew Jehovah, 
defined by theological pedantry, governed in his actions 
by the last manual of doctrine, petrified by literal 
interpretation ? 

^ Paradise Lost^ book \jl. I 753-760. 


Milton's Jehovah is a grave king, who maintains a 
suitable state, something like Charles I. When we 
meet him for the first time, in Book III., he is holding 
council, and setting forth a matter of business. From 
the style we see his grand furred cloak, his pointed 
Vandyke beard, his velvet-covered throne and golden 
dais. The business concerns a law which does not act 
weU, and respecting which he desires to justify his rule. 
Adam is about to eat the apple : why have exposed 
Adam to the temptation ? The royal orator discusses 
the question, and shows the reason ; 

" I made him just and right, 
Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall. 
Such I created all the ethereal powers 
And spirits, both them who stood and them who fail'd. . . . 
Not free, what proof could they have given sincere 
Of true allegiance, constant faith, or love ? 
Where only, what they needs must do, appeared, 
Not what they would : what praise could they receive 1 
What pleasure I from such obedience paid ? 
When will and reason (reason also is choice), 
Useless and vain, of freedom both despoil'd. 
Made passive both, had served necessity, 
Not me. They therefore, as to right belonged, 
So were created, nor can justly accuse 
Their Maker, or their making, or their fate ; 
As if predestination over-ruled 
Their will, disposed by absolute decree 
Or high foreknowledge : they themselves decreed 
Their own revolt, not I : if I foreknew, 
Foreknowledge had no influence on their fault, 
Which had no less proved certain unforeknowu. 
So without least impulse or shadow of fate. 
Or aught by me immutably foreseen. 

304 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

They trespass, authors to themselves in all, 
Both what they judge and what they choose." ^ 

The modem reader is not so patient as the Thrones, 
Seraphim, and Dominations ; this is why I stop half- 
way in the royal speech. We perceive that Milton's 
Jehovah is connected with the theologian James I., 
versed in the arguments of Arminians and Gomarists, 
very clever at the distinguo, and, before all, incompar- 
ably tedious. He must pay his councillors of state very 
well if he wishes them to listen to such tirades. His 
son answers him respectfully in the same style. Goethe's 
God, half abstraction, half legend, source of calm 
oracles, a vision just beheld after a pyramid of ecstatic 
strophes,^ greatly excels this MUtonic God, a business 
man, a schoolmaster, an ostentatious man ! I honour 
him too much in giving him these titles. He deserves 
a worse name, when he sends Eaphael to warn Adam 
that Satan intends him some mischief : 

" This let him know, 
Lest, wilfully transgressing, he pretend 
Surprisal, unadmonish'd, unforewam'd." ^ 

This Mil tonic Deity is only a schoolmaster, who, fore- 
seeing the fault of his pupU, tells liim beforehand the 
grammar rule, so as to have the pleasure of scolding him 
without discussion. Moreover, Kke a good politician, 
he had a second motive, just as with liis angels, " For 
state, as So\Tan King ; and to inuf e our prompt obedi- 
ence." The word is out ; we see what Milton's heaven 
is : a Wliitehall filled with bedizened footmen. The 

* Paradise Lost^ book iii. I, 98-123. 
' End of the continuation of Faust, Prologue in Heaven, 
^ Paradise Lost, book v. I, 243. 


MILTON. 305 

angels are the choristers, whose business is to sing 
cantatas about the king and before the king, keeping 
their places as long as they obey, alternating all 
night long to sing " melodious hymns about the sovran 
throne." What a life for this poor king ! and what a 
cruel condition, to hear eternally his own praises ! ^ 
To amuse himself, Milton's Deity decides to crown his 
son king — partner-king, if you prefer it. Eead the 
passage, and say if it be not a ceremony of his time 
that die poet describes : 

** Ten thousand thousand ensigns high adranced, 
Standards and gonfalons 'twixt ran and rear 
Stream in the air, and for distinction serve 
Of hierarchies, of orders, and degrees ; 
Or in their glittering tissues bear imblazed 
Holy memorials, acts of zeal and lore 
Recorded eminent ; " * 

doubtless the capture of a Dutch vessel, the defeat of 
the Spaniards in the Downs. The king brings forward 
his son, " anoints " him, declares him " his great vice- 
gerent : " 

" To him shall bow 

All knees in heaven. . . . Him who disobeys, 

Me disobeys ; *' ' 

and such were, in fact, expelled from heaven the same 

^ We are reminded of the history of Ira in Voltaire, condemned to 
hear without intermission or end the praises of four chamberlains, and 
the foUowing hymn : 

** Que son m^rite est extreme ! 
Que de gr&ces, que de grandeur. 
Ah ! combien monseigneur 
Doit ^tre content de lui-m^me ! 
« Paradise Lost, book v. /. 688-694. » Ihid, I, 607-612. 

VOL. n. X 

306 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

day. " All seem'd well pleased ; all seem'd, but were 
not all." Yet 

" That day, as other Bolemn days, they spent 
In song and dance about the sacred hill. . . . 
Forthwith from dance to sweet repast they turn 

Milton describes the tables, the dishes, the wine, the 
vessels. It is a popular festival ; I miss the fireworks, 
the bell-ringing, as in London, and I can fancy that all 
would drink to the health of the new king. Then 
Satan revolts ; he takes his troops to the other end of 
the country, like Lambert or Monk, toward "the 
quarters of the north," Scotland perhaps, passing througli 
well-governed districts, " empires," with their sheriffs 
and lord-lieutenants. Heaven is partitioned off like a 
good map. Satan holds forth before his officers against 
royalty, opposes in a word-combat the good royalist 
Abdiel, who refutes his " blasphemous, false, and proud " 
arguments, and quits him to rejoin his prince at Oxford. 
Well armed, the rebel marches with his pikemen and 
artillery to attack the fortress.^ The two parties slash 
each other with the sword, mow each other down with 
cannon, knock each other down with political argu- 
ments. These sorry angels have their mind as well 
disciplined as their limbs ; they have passed their 

1 Paradise Loaf, book v. L 617-681. 

' The Miltonic Deity is so much on the leyel of a king and man, 
tliat he uses (with irony certainly) words like these : 

** Lest unawares we lose 
This our high place, oar Sanctuary, our HilL'* 

His son, about to flesh his maiden sword, replies : 

" If I be found the worst in heaven," etc. 

Book V. 781-712. 



youth in a class of logic and in a drill school. Satan 
holds forth like a preacher : 

" What heaven's Lord had powerfdlest to send 
Against us from about his throne, and judged 
Sufficient to subdue us to his will, 
But proves not so : then fallible, it seems, 
Of future we may deem him, though till now 
Omniscient thought."^ 

He also talks like a drill-sergeant. " Vanguard, to 
right and left the front unfold." He makes quips as 
clumsy as those of Harrison, the former butcher turned 
officer. What a heaven ! It is enough to disgust 
a man with Paradise; any one would rather enter 
Charles I.'s troop of. lackeys, or Cromwell's Ironsides. 
We have orders of the day, a hierarchy, exact sub- 
mission, extra-duties, disputes, regulated ceremonials, 
prostrations, etiquette, furbished arms, arsenals, depots 
of chariots and ammunition. Was it worth while 
leaving earth to find in heaven carriage-works, build- 
ings, artillery, a manual of tactics, the art of salutations, 
and the Almanac de Gotha? Are these the things 
which "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath 
entered into the heart to conceive?" What a gap 
between this monarchical frippery * and the visions of 
Dante, the souls floating like stars amid the harmonies, 
the mingled splendours, the mystic roses radiating and 
vanishii^ in the azure, the impalpable world in which 

* Paradise Lost, book vL I 425-430. 

* When Raphael comes on earth, the angels who are ''under watch," 
" in hononr rise." The disagreeable and characteristic feature of this 
heaven is, that the universal motive is obedience, while in Dante's it is 
love. *' Lowly reverent they bow. . . . Our happy state we hold, like 
yonn, while our obedience holds." 

308 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

all the laws of earthly life are dissolved, the unfEtthoin- 
able abyss traversed by fleeting visions, like golden 
bees gliding in the rays of the deep central sun ! Is 
it not a sign of extinguished imagination, of the inroad 
of prose, of the birth of practical genius, replaciag 
metaphysics by morality ? What a fall ! To measure 
it, read a true Christian poem, the Apocalypse. I copy 
half-a-dozen verses ; think what it has become in the 
hands of the imitator : 

** And I turned to see the yoice that spake with me. And 
being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks ; 

<< And in the midst of the seven candlesticks, one like unto 
the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot^ and 
girt about the paps with a golden girdle. 

** His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as 
snow j and his eyes were as a flame of fire ; 

'* And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a 
furnace ; and his voice as the sound of many waters. 

" And he had in his right hand seven stars : and out of his 
mouth went a sharp two edged sword : and his countenance mu 
as the sun shineth in his strength. 

'' And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead."^ 

When Milton was arranging his celestial show, he 
did not fall as dead. 

But if the innate and inveterate habits of logical 
argument, joined with the literal theology of the time, 
prevented him from attaining to lyrical illusion or from 
creating living souls, the splendour of liis grand imagina- 
tion, combined with the passions of Puritanism, furnished 
him with an heroic character, several sublime hymns, 
and scenery which no one has surpassed. The finest 

1 Rev. i 12. 

cttip. Ti. MTLTOlf. 308 

thing in connection 'with this Paradise is hell ; and in 
this histoiy of God, the chief part is taken by the devil 
The ridiculooa devH of the middle-age, a homed eo- 
chanter, a dirty jester, a petty and mischievous ape, 
band-leader to a rabble of old women, has become a 
giant and a hero. Like a conquered and banished 
Cromwdl, he renmns admired and obeyed by those 
■vhom he has drawn into the abyss. If he continues 
master, it is because he deserves it; firmer, more 
enterprising, more scheming than the rest, it is always 
&om him that deep counsels, unlooked-for resources, 
courageous deeds, proceed. It was he who invented 
"deep-throated ei^ines . . . disgorging, . . . chained 
thunderbolts, and hail of iron globes," and won the 
second day's victory; he who in hell roused his de- 
jected troops, and planned the ruin of man ; he who, 
passing the guarded gates and the boundless chaos, amid 
so many dtuigers, and across so many obstacles, made 
man revolt gainst Qod, and gained for hell the whole 
posterity of the new-bom. Though defeated, he pre- 
vails, since he has won from the monarch on high the 
third part of his angels, and almost all the sons of his 
Adam. Though wounded, he triumphs, for the thunder 
which smolie his head left his heart invincible. Though 
feebler in force, be remains superior in nobility, since 
he prefers suffering independence to happy servility, 
and welcomes his defeat and his torments as a glory, a 
liberty, and a joy. These are the proud and sombre 
political passions of the constant though oppressed 
Puritans ; Milton had felt them in the vicissitudes of 
war, and the emigrants who had taken refuge amongst 
the wild beasts and savages of America, found them 
strong and energetic in the depths of their hearts. 

310 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

" Is this the region, this the soil, the clime, 
Said then the lost Archangel, this the seat 
That we must change for heaven ? this mournful gloom 
For that celestial light ? Be it so, since he. 
Who now is Sovran, can dispose and bid 
What shall be right : farthest from him is best. 
Whom reason has equaled, force hath made supreme 
Above his equals. Farewell, happy fields, 
Where joy for ever dweUs ! Hail, horrours ; hail. 
Infernal world ! and thou, profoundest hell, 
Receive thy new possessor ; one who brings 
A mind not to be changed by place or time. 
The mind is its own place, and in itself 
Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven. 
What matter where, if I be still the same, 
And what I should be ; all but less than he 
Whom thunder hath made greater ? Here at least 
We shall be free ; the Almighty hath not built 
Here for his envy ; will not drive us hence : 
Here we may reign secure ; and in my choice 
To reign is worth ambition, though in hell : 
Better to reign in hell, than serve in heaven."^ 

This sombre heroism, this harsh obstinacy, this biting 
irony, these proud stiff arms which clasp grief as a 
mistress, this concentration of invincible courage which, 
cast on its own resources, finds everything in itself, this 
power of passion and sway over passion, — 

" The unconquerable will. 
And study of revenge, immortal hate. 
And courage never to submit or yield, 
And what is else not to be overcome,"* 

are features proper to the English character and to 

1 Paradise Lost, book i. I. 242-263. • Bid. I 10^109. 

English UteTattue, and you will find them later on in 
Byron's Lara and Conrad. 

Around the fallen angel, as within him, all ie great. 
Dante's hell is but a hall of tortures, whose cells, one 
below another, descend to the deepest wells. Milton's 
hell is vast and vague. 

" A dnngeon horrible on all Bidea round 
As one great fhmace flamed, yet from those flames 
No light, but rather daikneea visible 
Served only to ducover sights of woe, 
Begions of soirow, doleful shades.' . . . 
Beyond this flood a frozen continent 
Lies dark and wild, beat with perpetual stonns 
Of whirlwind and dire hail, which on firm land 
Thaws not, but gathen heap, tmd ruin seems 
Of ancient pile."* 
The angels gather, innumerable legions : 

" As when heaven's fire 
Hath scathed the forest oaks or mountain pines. 
With singed top their stately growth, though bare. 
Stands on the blasted heath."^ 

Milton needs the grand and infinite ; he lavishes them. 
His eyes are only content in limitless space, and he 
produces colossal figures to fill it. Such is Satan 
wallowing on the surges of the hvid sea : 

" In bulk as huge . . . as . . . that sea-beast 
Leviathan, which Qod of all hii works 
Created hugeet that swim the ocean stream : 
Him, haply, Blombering on the I^'orway foam, 

312 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

The pilot of some small night-founder'd skiS, 
Deeming some island, oil, as seamen tell, 
With fixed anchor in his scaly rind 
Moors by his side under the lee, while night 
Invests the sea^ and wished mom delays/' ^ 

Spenser has discovered images just as fine, but he 
has not the tragic gravity which the idea of heU 
impresses. on a Protestant No poetic creation equals 
in horror and grandeur the spectacle that greeted Satan 
on leaving his dungeon : 

^' At last appear 
Hell bounds, high reaching to the horrid roof, 
And thrice threefold the gates ; three folds were brass, 
Three iron, three of adamantine rock, 
Impenetrable, impaled with circling fire. 
Yet unconsumed. Before the gates there sat 
On either side a formidable shape ; 
The one seem'd woman to the waist, and fair, 
But ended foul in many a scaly fold 
Voluminous and vast, a serpent arm'd 
With mortal sting : about her middle round 
A cry of hell hounds never ceasing bark'd 
With wide Cerberean mouths full loud, and rung 
A hideous peal : yet, when they list, would creep. 
If aught disturbed their noise, into her womb, 
And kennel there ; yet there still bark'd and howl'd 
Within unseen. . . . The other shape. 
If shape it might be call'd, that shape had none 
Distinguishable in member, joint, or limb. 
Or substance might be call'd that shadow seem'd. 
For each seem'd either : black it stood as night, 
Fierce as ten furies, terrible as hell. 
And shook a dreadful dart ; what seem'd his head 

^ Paradise Last, book i. I 196-208. 


The likencM of & kiugj; crown had on. 
Satan vb« now at hand, and from bis seat 
The mtmater monng onward came m last, 
With horrid atridee ; hell trembled m he strode. 
The imdaunted fiend what thia might be admired, 
Admired, not feor'd."* 

The heroic glow of the old soldier of the Civil Wars 
animates the infenial battle; and if Boyone were to 
ask why Milton creates things greater than other men, 
I shoold answer, becaose he has a greater heart 

Hence the sublimity of his scenery. If I did not 
fear the paradox, I shonld say that this scenery was a 
school of virtue. Spenser is a smooth glass, which fills 
us with calm images. Shakspeare is a burning mirror, 
which overpowers ns, repeataily, with multiplied and 
dazzling visions. The one distracts, the other disturbs 
us. Milton raises our mind. The force of the objects 
which he describes passes into us; we become great 
by sjrmpathy with their greatness. Such is the effect 
of his description of the Creatioa The calm and 
creative command of the Messiah leaves its trace in 
the heart which listens to it, and we feel more vigour 
and moral health at the sight of this great work of 
wisdom and will ; 

*' On heaveni; ground they stood ; and from the ehore 
They vieVd the vast immeasurable abyss 
OntrageooB as a sea, dark, wasteful, wild. 
Up from the bottom tom'd by Auioua winds 
And auT^ng waves, as mountains, to assault 
Heaven's highth, and with the centre mix the pole. 
' Silence, ye troubled waves, and thou de^ peace,' 
Said then the omnific Word : 'your discoid end I' . . . 
> Ainuf^K LoiC book a I. 643-678. 

314 • THE RENAISSANCE. book ii. 

Let there be light, said God ; and forthwith light 
Ethereal, first of things, quintessence pure. 
Sprung from the deep ; and from her native east 
To journey through the aery gloom began. 
Sphered in a radiant cloud. . . . 
The earth was formed ; but in the womb as yet 
Of waters, embryon immature involved, 
Appeared not : over all the face of earth 
Main ocean flow'd, not idle, but, with warm 
Prolific humour softening all her globe. 
Fermented the great mother to conceive. 
Satiate with genial moisture, when Grod said, 
* Be gathered now, ye waters under heaven. 
Into one place, and let dry land appear.' 
Inmiediately the mountains huge appear 
Emergent, and their broad bare backs upheave 
Into the clouds, their tops ascend the sky : 
So high as heaved the tumid hills, so low 
Down sunk a hollow bottom broad and deep. 
Capacious bed of waters : thither they 
Hasted with glad precipitance, uproll'd. 
As drops on dust conglobing from the dry."^ 

This is primitive scenery; immense bare seas and 
mountains, as Raphael Sanzio outlines them in the 
background of his biblical paintings. Milton embraces 
the general effects, and handles the whole as easily as 
his Jehovah. 

Let us quit superhuman and fanciful spectacles. A 
simple simset equals them. Milton peoples it with 
solemn allegories and regal figures, and the sublime is 
bom in the poet, as just before it was bom from the 
subject : — 

1 Paradise Lost, book vii. /. 210-292. 


" The sun, now fallen ... 
Arraying with reflected purple and gold 
The cloudB that on his western throne attend : 
Now came still evening on, and twilight gray 
Had in her sober livery all things clad ; 
Silence accompanied, for beast and bird, 
They to their grassy couch, these to their nests. 
Were slunk, all but the wakeful nightingale ; 
She all night long her amorous descant sung ; 
Silence was pleased : now glowed the firmament 
With living sapphires : Hesperus, that led 
The starry host, rode brightest, till the moon, 
Rising in clouded migesty, at length, 
Apparent queen, unveiled her peerless light. 
And o'er the dark her silver mantle threw.'' ^ 

The changes of the light become here a religious 
procession of vague beings who fill the soul with 
veneration. So sanctified, the poet prays. Standing 
by the "inmost bower" of Adam and Eve, he says : — 

" Hail wedded love, mysterious law, true source 
Of human offspring, sole propriety 
In Paradise of aU things common else ! 
By thee adulterous lust was driven from men 
Among the bestial herds to range by thee, 
Founded in reason, loyal, just, and pure. 
Relations dear, and all the charities 
Of father, son, and brother, first were known." ^ 

He justifies it by the example of saints and 
patriarchs. He immolates before! it " the bought smile " 
and "court-amours, mix'd dance, or wanton mask, or 
midnight ball, or serenate." We are a thousand miles 
from Shakspeare ; and in this Protestant eulogy of the 

' Paradue Lost, book iv. /. 591-609. • lUd, U 750-757. 

316 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

family tie, of lawful love, of "domestic sweets," of 
orderly piety and of home, we perceive a new literature 
and an altered time. 

A strange great man, and a strange spectacle ! He 
was bom with the instinct of noble things ; and this 
instinct, strengthened in him by solitary meditation, 
by accumulated knowledge, by stem logic, becomes 
changed into a body of maxims and beliefs which no 
temptation could dissolve, and no reverse shake. Thus 
fortified, he passes life as a combatant, as a poet, with 
courageous deeds and splendid dreams, heroic and rude, 
chimerical and impassioned, generous and calm, like 
every self-contained reasoner, like every enthusiast, 
insensible to experience and enamoured of the beautifuL 
Thrown by the chance of a revolution into politics and 
theology, he demands for others the liberty which his 
powerful reason requires, and strikes at the public 
fetters which impede his personal energy. By the 
force of his intellect, he is more capable than any one 
of accumulating science ; by the force of his enthusiasm^ 
he is more capable than any of experiencing hatred. 
Thus armed, he throws himself into controversy with 
all the clumsiness and barbarism of the time ; but this 
proud logic displays its argimients with a marvellous 
breadth, and sustains its images with an unwonted 
majesty: this lofty imagination, after having spread 
over his prose an array of magnificent figures, carries 
him into a torrent of passion even to the height of the 
sublime or excited ode — a sort of axchangers song of 
adoration or vengeance. The chance of a throne 
preserved, then re-established, led him, before the 
revolution took place, into pagan and moral poetiy, 
after the revolution into Christian and moral verse. 



In both he aims at the sublime, and inspires admiration ; 
because the sublime is the work of enthusiastic reason, 
and admiration is the enthusiasm of reason. In both, 
he arrives at his point by the accumulation of 
splendours, by the sustained fulness of poetic song, by 
the greatness of his allegories, the loftiness of his 
sentiments, the description of infinite objects and 
heroic emotions. In the first, a lyrist and a philo- 
sopher, with a wider poetic freedom, and the creator of 
a stronger poetic illusion, he produces almost perfect 
odes and choruses. In the second, an epic writer and 
a Protestant, enslaved by a strict theology, robbed of 
the style which makes the supernatural visible, deprived 
of the dramatic sensibility which creates varied and 
living souls, he accumulates cold dissertations, trans- 
fthns man and God into orthodox and vulgar machines, 
add only regains his genius in endowing Satan with 
his republican soul, in multiplying grand landscapes and 
colossal apparitions, in consecrating his poetry to the 
praise of religion and duty. 

Placed, as it happened, between two ages, he parti- 
cipates in their two characters, as a stream which, 
flowing between two different soils, is tinged by both 
their hues. A poet and a Protestant, he receives from 
the closing age the free poetic afSatus, and from the 
opening age the severe political religion. He employed 
the one in the service of the other, and displayed the 
old inspiration in new subjects. In his works we 
recognise two Englands : one impassioned for the 
beautiful, devoted to the emotions of an imshackled 
sensibility and the fancies of pure imagination, with 
no law but the natural feelings, and no religion but 
natural beUef; willingly pagan, often immoral; such 

318 THE RENAISSANCE. book n. 

as it is exhibited by Ben Jonson, Beaumont, Fletcher, 
Shakspeare, Spenser, and the superb harvest of poets 
which covered the ground for a space of fifty years; 
the other fortified by a practical religion, void of meta- 
physical invention, altogether political worshipping 
rule, attached to measured, sensible, useful, narrow 
opinions, praising the virtues of the family, armed and 
stiflfened by a rigid morality, driven into prose, raised 
to the highest degree of power, wealth, and liberty. 
In this sense, this style and these ideas are monuments 
of history; they concentrate, recall, or anticipate the 
past and the future ; and in the limits of a single work 
are found the events and the feelings of several cen- 
turies and of a whole nation. 

BOOK m. 


Sl)t Jit&tatatim, 

1. The Roisxhbers. 

When we alternately look at the works of the court 
painters of Charles I. and Charles II., and pass from 
the noble portraits of Van Dyck to the figures of Lely, 
the fall is sudden and great ; we have left a palace, and 
we light on a bagnio. 

Instead of the proud and dignified lords, at once 
cavaliers and courtiers, instead of those high-bom yet 
simple ladies who look at the same time princesses and 
modest maidens, instead of that generous and heroic 
company, el^ant and resplendent, in whom the spirit 
of the Renaissance yet survived, but who already dis- 
played the refinement of the modem ege, we are 
con&onted by perilous and importunate courtesans, 
with an expresBion either vile or harsh, incapable of 
shame or of remorse.' Their pliunp smooth hEuida toy 

1 Sea Mpecially the poitnita of Ledy Morkud, Lady Williuna 
the conutcM of OU017, the Dnclieas of Clerelam], I«dy Price, ud 


. lit. 

W.-. . 

.i[i-ji :— : : 
„ . .> nil ■ -.:-- 

,■ ti\ Miiy 'if 'iiiili^ist; riiriiauism lia>l 
I'lijii', mill fjiiijitics lijiil talked ilown 
> u'liw llitt;;1iHiiiiy Kii;;]isli imiijrimittt'U, 
,u>iis it-ni'i'-i, Iiaii ik'soliiteil tlie life i>f 
.t- liadU-i-iiim-iIistiii'ljeil nt the t1iuii}:lit 
,i.itk I'lfniily ; lialf-nxiJi-essetl iloubls 
»itliiii like ii lieil of tlioms, iirnJ 
.i)t}t .)t i<\'i'rv luiitidU, liiul cuded by 


taking a disgust at all ite pleasures, and abhorred all ite 
natural instincts. Thus poisoned at ite very beginning, 
the divine sentiment of justice became a mournful mad- 
ness. Man, confessedly perverse and condenmed, believed 
himself pent in a prison-house of perdition and vice, 
into which no effort and no chance could dart a ray of 
light, except a hand from above should come by free 
grace, to rend the sealed stone of this tomb. Men lived 
the life of the condemned, amid torments and anguish, 
oppressed by a gloomy despair, haunted by spectres. 
People would frequently im^ne themselves at the point 
of death ; Cromwell himself, according to Dr. Simcott, 
physician in Huntingdon, " had fancies about the Town 
Cross;"' some would feel within them the motions of 
an evil spirit ; one and all passed the night with their 
eyes glued to the tales of blood and the impassioned 
appeals of the Old Testament, listening to the threats 
and thunders of a terrible God, and renewing in their 
own hearts the ferocity of murderers and the exalta- 
tion of seera. Under such a strain reason gradually 
left them. They continually were, seekii^ after the 
Lord, and found but a dream. After long hours of 
exhaustion, tbey laboured under a warped and over- 
wrought imagination. Dazzling forms, unwonted ideas, 
sprang up on a sudden in their heated brain ; these men 
were raised and penetrated by extraordinary emotions. 
So transformed, they knew themselves no longer ; they 
did not ascribe to themselves these violent and sudden 
inspirations which were forced upon them, which com- 
pelled them to leave the beaten tracks, which had no 
connection one with another, which shook and enlight* 
ened them when least expected, without being able 

■ Oiira Cromwell'i Ltttot and SpanAa, ed. b; Carlyle, 1866, L 89.— 

» *^ 

ZEL -CIjlSSC aOH mid«l m. 


^.rl>^ :o iiH«ik X :•: riTfci ibsci : ihrr skw in them 

-zi M r: ^»:hl zzk -zzzL-ls^ilszl :d "ATr-ess Ai>d ihe stub- 

T> -.ri'Tz. ill fiZiiiirfsi. hbl t^K^se an insdm- 

ii»i liSi o-:-Tn *Ii ihe steps of 
c iz.-i r^Cjcieii :Le eDcioaelmient 
*>f Li^ •irea.zi ^.> & litiiiTr : lir 5« 4tc<:^ xstHfaodicallv to 
•iriTr c-c: reas*:^ in-i enir.ije ecscasy. Geoige Fox 
iKT»xe :i? Li5:orr. B;:r.Taz irive :: iis laws. Pariiament 
presented an ejujnp'ir o: ::. all the puipiis lauded its 
pni..:i»:e. ArdsdLns. s»>Iiiri^. v.:«iien discussed it, mas- 
tered! it. excited one anc^Ler It the details of their 
eii-erience and the publiviiy c-f their exaltations. A 
new life was inacgurattd which had Uigfated and 
eicludeil the old. All secidar tastes were suppressed, 
all sensual j«>ys f«:*rbidden; the spiritual man alone 
remained standing upi^^n the ruins of the past, and the 
heart, debarred from all its natural safetT-valves> could 
ouly direct its ^iews or aspirations towards a sinister 
Deit}'. The tj-pical Puritan walked slowly along the 
streets, his eyes raised towards heaven, with elongated 
features, yeUow and haggard, with closely cropt hair, clad 
in bro\ni or black, unadorned, clothed only to cover 
liis nakedness. If a man had roimd cheeks, he passed 
for lukewarm.^ The whole body, the exterior, the very 
tone of voice, all must wear the sign of penitence and 
divine grace. A Puritan spoke slowly, with a solemn 
and somewhat nasal tone of voice, as if to destroy the 
vivacity of conversation and the melody of the natural 
voice. His speech stuffed ^vith scriptural quotations, 
his style borrowed from the prophets, his name and the 

^ Colonel Hutchinson was at one time held in suspicion becauae he 
wore long hair and dressed weU. 


names of his children drawn from the Bible, bore 
witness that his thoughts were confined to the terrible 
world of the seers and ministers of divine vengeance. 
From within, the contagion spread outwards. The 
fears of conscience were converted into laws of the 
state. Personal asceticism grew into public tyranny. 
The Puritan proscribed pleasure as an enemy, for others 
as well as for himself. Parliament closed the gambling- 
houses and theatres, and had the actors whipped at the 
cart's tail ; oaths were fined ; the May-trees were cut 
down ; the bears, whose fights amused the people, were 
put to death ; the plaster of Puritan masons reduced 
nude statues to decency ; the beautiful poetic festivals 
were forbidden. Fines and corporal punishments shut 
out, even from children, games, dancing, bell-ringing, 
rejoicings, junketings, wrestling, the chase, all exercises 
and amusements which might profane the Sabbath. 
The ornaments, pictures, and statues in the churches 
were pulled down or mutilated. The only pleasure 
which they retained and permitted was the singing of 
psalms through the nose, the edification of long sermons, 
the excitement of acrimonious controversies, the harsh 
and sombre joy of a victory gained over the enemy of 
mankind, and of the tyranny exercised against the 
demon's supposed abettors. In Scotland, a colder and 
sterner land, intolerance reached the utmost limits of 
ferocity and pettiness, instituting a surveillance over the 
private life and home devotions of every member of a 
family, depriving Catholics of their children, imposing 
the abjuration of Popery under pain of perpetual im- 
prisonment or death, dragging crowds of witches^ to the 

^ 1648 ; thirty in one day. One of them confessed that she had 
been at a gathering of more than five hundred witches. 

324 THE CLASSIC AGE. book in, 

stake.^ It seemed as though a black cloud had 
weighed down the life of man, drowning all light, 
wiping out all beauty, extinguishing all joy, pierced 
here and there by the glitter of the sword and by the 
flickering of torches, beneath which one might perceive 
the indistinct forms of gloomy despots, of bilious 
sectarians, of silent victims. 


After the Restoration a deliverance ensued. like 
a checked and choked up stream, public opinion dashed 
with all its natural force and all its acquired momentum, 
into the bed from which it had been debarred. The 

^ In 1652, the kirk-session of Glasgow "brot^boyes and servants 
before them, for breaking the sabbath, and other faults. They had 
clandestine censors, and gave money to some for this end. " — Note 28, 
taken from Wodrow*8 Analeda; Buckle, History of Civilization tn 
England, 8 vols. 1867, iiL 208. 

Even early in the eighteenth century, " the most popular divines '* 
in Scotland affirmed that Satan ** frequently appears clothed in a cor- 
poreal substance." — IMd, iii 288, note 76, taken from Memoirs ofCL. 

** No husband shall kiss his wife, and no mother shall kiss her chOd 
on the Sabbath day. »*— Note 186. Ibid, iii. 268 ; from Rev. C. J. Lyon's 
SL Andreies, vol. i. 468, with regard to government of a colony. [It 
would have been satisfactory if Mr. Lyon had given his authority.] — Tk, 

** (Sept 22, 1649) The quhilk day the Sessioune caused mak this act, 
that ther sould be no pypers at brydels," etc. — IhuL iii. 268, note 168. 
In 1719, the Presbytery of Edinburgh indignantly declares: "Yea, 
some have arrived at that height of impiety, as not to be ashamed of 
washing in waters, and swimming in rivers upon the holy Sabbath.** — 
Note 187. Ifnd. iii. 266. 

'* I think^David had never so sweet a time as then, when he wis 
pursued as a partridge by his son Absalom." — Note 190. Gray's Orsat 
and Precious Promises. 

See the whole of Chapter iii. vol. iii., in which Buckle has described, 
by similar quotations, the condition of Scotland, chiefly in the seven- 
teenth century. 


outburst carried away the dams. The violent return 
to the senses drowned morality. Virtue had the 
semblance of Puritanism. Duty and fanaticism became 
mingled in common disrepute. In this great reaction^ 
devotion and honesty, swept away together, left to man- 
kind but the wreck and the mire. The more excellent 
parts of human nature disappeared ; there remained but 
the animal, without bridle or guide, urged by his desires 
beyond justice and shame. 

When we see these manners through the medium of 
a Hamilton or a Samt-Evremond, we can tolerate them. 
Their French varnish deceives us. Debauchery in a 
Frenchman is only half disgusting; with him, if the 
animal breaks loose, it is without abandoning itself to 
excess. The foundation is not, as with the Englishman, 
coarse and powerful You may break the glittering ice 
which covers him, without bringing down upon yourself 
the swollen and muddy torrent that roars beneath his 
neighbour ; ^ the stream which will issue from it will 
only have its petty dribblings, and will return quickly 
and of itself to its accustomed channeL The French- 
man is mild, naturally refined, little inclined for great 
or gross sensuality, liking a sober style of talk, easily 
armed against filthy manners by his delicacy and good 
taste. The Count de Grammont has too much wit to 
love an orgie. After all an orgie is not pleasant ; the 
breaking of glasses, brawling, lewd talk, excess in eating 
and drinking, — there is nothing in this very tempting 
to a rather delicate taste : the Frenchman, after Gram- 
mont's type, is bom an epicurean, not a glutton or 
a drunkard. What he seeks is amusement, not unre- 

^ See, in Richardson, Swift, and Fielding, but particularly in 
Hogarth, the delineation of brutish debauchery. 

326 THE CLASSIC AGE. book hi. 

strained joy or bestial pleasure. I know full well that 
he is not without reproach. I would not trust him with 
my purse, he forgets too readily the distinction between 
mefiim and tuum ; above all, I woidd not trust him with 
my wife : he is not over-delicate ; his escapades at the 
gambling-table and with women smack too much of the 
sharper and the briber. But I am wrong to use these big 
words in connection with him ; they are too weighty, 
they crush so delicate and so pretty a specimen of 
humanity. These heavy habits of honour or shame can 
only be worn by serious-minded men, and Grammont 
takes nothing seriously, neither his fellowmen, nor 
himself, nor vice, nor virtue. To pass his time agreeably 
is his sole endeavour. "They had said good-bye to dulness 
in the army," observed Hamilton, " as soon as he was 
there." That is his pride and his aim; he troubles 
himself, and cares for nothing beside. His valet robs 
him ; another would have brought the rogue to the 
gallows ; but the theft was clever, and he keeps his 
rascal He left England forgetting to marry the girl he 
was betrothed to ; he is caught at Dover ; he returns 
and marries her : this was an amusing contre-temps ; he 
asks for nothing better. One day, being penniless, he 
fleeces the Count de Cam(5ran at play. " Coidd Gram- 
mont, after the figure he had once cut, pack off like 
any common fellow ? By no means ; he is a man of 
feeling ; he will maintain the honour of France." He 
covers his cheating at play with a joke ; in reality, his 
notions of property are not over-clear. He regales 
Cam^ran with Camdran's o^vn money ; would Cam^ran 
have acted better or otherwise? What matter if his 
money be in Grammont's purse or his own ? The main 
point is gained, since there is pleasure in getting the 


money, and there is pleasure in spending it. The 
hateful and the ignoble vanish from such a life. If 
he pays his court to princes, you may be sure it is not 
on his knees; so lively a soul is not weighed down 
by respect; his wit places him on a level with the 
greatest; under pretext of amusing the king,^he tells 
him plain truths.^ If he finds himself in London, 
surrounded by open debauchery, he does not plunge into 
it; he passes through on tiptoe, and so daintily that 
the mire does not stick to him. We do not recognise 
any longer in his anecdotes the anguish and the brutality 
which were really felt at that time; the narrative 
flows on quickly, raising a smUe, then another, and 
another yet, so that the whole mind is brought by an 
adroit and easy progress to something like good humour. 
At table, Grammont will never stuff himself; at play, 
he will never grow violent ; with his mistress, he will 
never give vent to coarse talk ; in a duel, he will not 
hate his adversary. The wit of a Frenchman is like 
French wine ; it makes men neither brutal, nor wicked, 
nor gloomy. Such is the spring of these pleasrures : a 
supper will destroy neither delicacy, nor good nature, 
nor enjoyment. The Ubertine remains sociable, polite, 
obliging ; his gaiety cuhninates only in the gaiety of 
others;* he is attentive to them as naturally as to 
himself; and in addition, he is ever on the alert and 
intelligent : repartees, flashes of brilliancy, witticisms, 

^ The king was playing at backgammon ; a doubtful throw occurs : 
** Ah, here is Grammont, wholl decide for us ; Grammont, come and 
decide." **Sire, you have lost" ** What : you do not yet know." . . . 
*• Ah, Sire, if the throw had been merely doubtful, these gentlemen 
would not have failed to say you had won." 

' Hamilton says of Grammont, " He sought out the unfortunate 
only to succour them. " 

328 THE CLASSIC AGE. book m. 

sparkle on his lips ; he can think at table and in com- 
pany, sometimes better than if alone or fasting. It is 
clear that with him debauchery does not extinguish 
the man ; Grammont woidd say that it perfects him ; 
that wit, the heart, the senses, only arrive at excel- 
lence and true enjoyment, amid the elegance and anima- 
tion of a choice supper. 


It is quite the contrary in England. When we 
scratch the covering of an Englishman's morality, the 
brute appears in its violence and its deformity. One 
of the English statesmen said that with the French an 
unchained mob coidd be led by words of humanity and 
honour,^ but that in England it was necessary, in order 
to appease them, to throw to them raw flesh. Insults, 
blood, orgie, that is the food on which the mob of noble- 
men, under Charles II., precipitated itself. AU that 
excuses a cfimival was absent ; and, in particidar, wit 
Three years after the return of the king, Butler published 
his Hvdibras ; and with what ^clat his contemporaries 
only coidd tell, while the echo of applause is kept up 
even to our own days. How low is the wit, with what 
awkwardness and dulness he dilutes his revengeful satire. 
Here and there lurks a happy picture, the remnant of a 
poetry which has just perished; but the whole work 
reminds one of a Scarron, as unworthy as the other, and 
more malignant. It is written, people say, on the model 
of Don Quixote; Hudibras is a Puritan knight, who 
goes about, like his antitype, redressing wrongs, and 
pocketing beatings. It would be truer to say that it 

^ This saying sounds strange after the horrors of the Commune. — ^Te. 


resembles the wretched imitation of Avellaneda.' The 
short metre, well snited to buffoonery, hobbles along 
■without rest and limpingly, flounderii^ in the mud 
which it delights in, as foul and as dull as that of the 
Sniide Traveatie? The description of Hudibras and 
his horse occupies the beat part of a canto ; forty lines 
are taken up by describing his heard, forty more by 
describing his breeches. Endless scholastic discussions, 
arguments as long as those of the Puritans, spread 
their wastes and briais over half the poem. No action, 
no simplicity, all is would-be satire and gross cari- 
cature ; there is neither art, nor harmony, nor good taste 
to be found in it ; the Puritan style is converted into an 
absurd gibberish ; and the engalled rancour, missing its 
aim by its mere excess, spoils the portrait it wishes to 
draw. Would you believe that such a writer gives 
himself airs, wishes to enliven us, pretends to be funny ? 
What delicate raillery is there in this pictiu« of Hndi- 
braa* beard ! 

" HU tawny beard was th' equal grace 

Both of his wisdom and his fiu» ; 

In cut and die so. like a tile, 

A sudden view it would beguile : 

The upper part whereof was whey, 

Tbe netber orange, mix'd with grey. 

This hairy meteor did denounce 

The fall of sceptres and of crowns : 

> A Spanish aathor, irho contiiiaed and imitBted Cervantes' Don 

' A work by Hcairon. Hvdibna, ed. Z. Qrey, 1801, 2 Tola., i. 
canto 1. 1. 2SS, sayi olio : 

"For as £aeas bore Ids sire 
Upon his ahoiilderi through the fire. 
Our knight did be«r no leas a pack 
Of his own bnttocks on his back. " 

330 THE CLASSIC AGE. book ni. 

With grisly type did represent 

Declining age of government, 

And tell with hieroglyphic spade 

Its own grave and the state's were made." ^ 

Butler is so well satisfied with his insipid fun, that he 
prolongs it for a good many lines : 

" Like Samson's heart-breakers, it grew 
In time to make a nation rue ; 
Tho' it contributed its own fall, 
To wait upon the public downfall. . . . 
'Twas bound to suffer persecution 
And martyrdom with resolution ; 
T' oppose itself against the hate 
And vengeance of the incens'd state, 
In whose defiance it was worn. 
Still ready to be pull'd and torn. 
With red-hot irons to be tortur*d, 
Revil'd, and spit upon, and martyr'd. 
Maugre all which, 'twas to stand fast 
As long as monarchy should last ; 
But when the state should hap to reel, 
'Twas to submit to fatal steel, 
And fall, as it was consecrate, 
A sacrifice to fall of state. 
Whose thread of life the fatal sisters 
Did twist together with its whiskers. 
And twine so close, that time should never. 
In life or death, their fortimes sever ; 
But with his rusty sickle mow 
Both down together at a blow." ^ 

The nonsense increases as we go on. Could any one 
have taken pleasure in humour such as this ? — 

1 Hudibras, part i canto L I, 241-250. > Ibid. I 253-280. 


'* This Bword a dagger had, his page, 
That was but little for his age ; 
And therefore waited on him so 
As dwarfs upon knights-errant do. . . . 
When it had stabb'd, or broke a head, 
It would scrape trenchers, or chip bread. . . . 
'Twould make clean shoes, and in the earth 
Set leeks and onions, and so forth." ^ 

Everything becomes trivial; if any beauty presents 
itself, it is spoUed by burlesque. To read those long 
details of the kitchen, those servile and crude jokes, 
people might fancy themselves in the company of a 
common buffoon in the market-place ; it is the talk of 
the quacks on the bridges, adapting their imagination 
and language to the manners of the beer-shop and the 
hovel. There is filth to be met with there; indeed, 
the rabble wiU laugh when the mountebank alludes to 
the disgusting acts of private life.^ Such is the 
grotesque stuff in which the courtiers of the Restoration 
delighted; their spite and their coarseness took a 

^ HudibraSf part i. canto L L 875-386. 

^ *' Quoth Hudibras, 1 smell a rat. 
Ralpho, thou dost prevaricate ; 
For though the thesis which thou lay'st 
Be true ad amusaim as thou say*st 
(For that bear-baiting should appear 
Jure divino lawfuller 
Than Synods arc, thou do'st deny, 
Tolidem verbis ; so do I), 
Yet there is fallacy in this ; 
For if by sly homososis, 
TussU pro crepilUf an art 

• • • 

Thou wouldst sophistically imply, 
Both are unlawful, I deny." 

Part i. canto i. I 821-834. 

332 THE CLASSIC AGE. book in, 

pleasure in the spectacle of these bawling puppets; 
even now, after two centuries, we hear the ribald 
laughter of this audience of lackeys. 


Charles II., when at his meals, ostentatiously drew 
Grammont's attention to the fact that his officers served 
him on their knees. They were in the right ; it was 
their fit attitude. Lord Chancellor Clarendon, one of 
the most honoured and honest men of the Court, learns 
suddenly and in full council that his daughter Anne is 
enceinte by the Duke of York, and that the Duke, the 
king's brother, has promised her marriage. Listen to 
the words of this tender father ; he has himself taken 
care to hand them down : 

" The Chancellor broke out uito a very iimnoderate passion 
against the wickedness of his daughter, and said with all 
imaginable earnestness, 'that as soon as he came home, he 
would turn her (his daughter) out of his house as a strumpet 
to shift for herself, and would never see her again.' " ^ 

Observe that this great man had received the news 
from the king imprepared, and that he made use of 
these fatherly expressions on the spur of the moment 
He added, "that he had much rather his daughter 
shoidd be the duke's whore than his wife." Is this not 
heroical ? But let Clarendon speak for himself. Only 
such a true monarchical heart can surpass itself: 

" He was ready to give a positive judgment, in which he 
hoped their lordships would concur with him ; that the king 
should immediately cause the woman to be sent to the Tower, 

^ Ths Life of Clarendon, ed. by himself, new ed., 1827, 3 vols., L 


and to be cast into a dungeon under so strict a guard, that no 
person living should be admitted to come to her; and then 
that an act of Parliament should be immediately passed for the 
cutting off her head, to which he would not only give his 
consent, but would very willingly be the first man that should 
propose it." ^ 

What Roman virtue ! Afraid of not being believed he 
insists; whoever knew the man, will believe that all 
this came from the very bottom of his heart. He is 
not yet satisfied ; he repeats his advice ; he addresses 
to the king different conclusive reasonings, in order 
that they might cut off the head of his daughter : 

'' I had rather submit and bear it (this disgrace) with all 
humihty, than that it should be repaired by makmg her his 
wife, the thought whereof I do so much abominate, that I had 
much rather see her dead, with all the infamy that is due to 
her presumption." 2 

In this manner, a man, who is in difficulty, can keep 
his salary and his Chancellor's robes. Sir Charles 
Berkley, captain of the Duke of York's guards, did 
better still; he solemnly swore "that he had lain 
with the yoimg lady," and declared himself ready to 
marry her " for the sake of the duke, though he knew 
well the familiarity the duke had with her." Then, 
shortly afterwards, he confessed that he had lied, but 
with a good intention, in all honour, in order to save 
the royal family from such a mesalliance. This admir- 
able self-sacrifice was rewarded; he soon had a 
pension from the privy purse, and was created Earl of 
Falmouth. From the first, the baseness of the public 
corporations rivalled that of individuals. The House 

* The Life of ClarendoTi, L 879. • Ibid, I 880. 

334 THE CLASSIC AGE. book hi. 

of Commons, but recently master of the country, still 
full of Presbyterians, rebels, and conquerors, voted 
"that neither themselves nor the people of England 
could be freed from the horrid guilt of the late un- 
natural rebellion, or from the pimishment wliich that 
guilt merited, imless they formally availed tliemselves 
of his majesty's grace and pardon, as set forth in the 
declaration of Breda." Then all these heroes went in 
a body and threw themselves with contrition at the 
sacred feet of their monarch. In this universal pros- 
tration it seemed that no one had any courage left. 
The king became the hireling of Louis XIV., and 
sold his coimtry for a large pension. Ministers, 
members of Parliament, ambassadors, all received 
French money. The contagion spread even to patriots, 
to men noted for their purity, to marytrs. Lord 
WiUiam Eussell intrigued with Versailles ; Algernon 
Sidney accepted 500 guineas. They had not dis- 
crimination enough to retain a show of spirit; they 
had not spirit enough to retain a show of honour.^ 

In men thus laid bare, the first thing that strikes you 
is the bloodthirsty instinct of brute beasts. Sir John 

* ** Mr. Evdyn tells me of several of the menial servants of the 
Court lacking bread, that have not received a farthing wages since the 
King's coming in." — Pejnjs' Diary , ed. Lord Braybrooke, 3d ed., 1848, 
5 vols., iv. April 26, 1667. 

** Mr. Povy says that to this day the King do follow the women as 
much as he ever did ; that the Duke of York .... hath come out of 
his wife's bed, and gone to others laid in bed for him ; . . . . that the 
family (of the Duke) is in horrible disorder by being in debt by 
spending above £60,000 per annum, when he hath not £40,000" (Ihid. 
iv. June 23, 1667). 

** It is certain that, as it now is, the seamen of England, in my con- 
science, would, if they could, go over and serve the king of France or 
Holland rather than us" {Ibid, iv. June 25, 1667). 


Coventry, a member of Parliament, let some word 
escape him, which was construed into a reproach of the 
royal amours. His friend, the Duke of Monmouth, 
contrived that he should be treacherously assaidted 
imder the king's command, by respectable men devoted 
to his service, who slit his nose to the bone. A vile 
wretch of the name of Blood tried to assassinate the 
Duke of Ormond, and to stab the keeper of the 
Tower, in order to steal the crown jewels. Charles 
II., considering that this was an interesting and dis- 
tinguished man of his kind, pardoned him, gave him an 
estate in Ireland, and admitted him to his presence, 
side by side with the Duke of Ormond, so that Blood 
became a sort of hero, and was received in good society. 
After such splendid examples, men dared everything. 
The Duke of Buckingham, a lover of the Coimtess of 
Shrewsbury, slew the Earl in a duel; the Countess, 
disguised as a page, held Buckingham's horse, while she 
embraced him, covered as he was with her husband's 
blood; and the murderer and adulteress returned 
publicly, and as triumphantly, to the house of the 
dead man. We can no longer wonder at hearing Count 
Konigsmark describe as a " peccadillo " an assassination 
which he had committed by waylaying his victim. I 
transcribe a duel out of Pepys, to give a notion of the 
manners of these bloodthirsty cut-throats. Sir H. 
Bellassis and Tom Porter, the greatest friends in 
the world, were talking together : 

" and Sir H. Bellassis talked a little louder than ordinary to 
Tom Porter, giving of him some advice. Some of the company 
standing by said, ' What ! are they quarrelling, that they talk 
80 high ] ' Sir H. Bellassis, hearing it, said, ' No ! ' says he : 
' I would have you know I never quarrel, but I strike : and 

336 THE CliASSIO AGE. book iu. 

taike that as a rule of mine ! ' ' How ! ' Bays Tom Porter, 
' strike ! I would I could see the man in England that dutst 
give me a blow ! ' with that Sir H. Bellassis did gire him 8 box 
of the eare ; and so they were going to fight there, but were 
hindered. . . . Tom Porter, being informed that Sir H. Bellas- 
sis' coach was coming, went down out of the coffee-house where 
he staid for the tidings, and stopped the coach, and bade Sir 
H. Bellanis come out. ' Why,' says H. Bellassis, 'you will not 
hurt me coming out, will you 1 ' ' No,' says Tom Porter. So 
out he went, and both drew. . . . They wounded one another, 
and Sir H. BellasBiB bo much that it ie feared he will die " — ^ 

■which he did ten days after. 

BuU-dogs like these took no pity on their enemies. 
The Eestoration opened with a butchery. The Lords 
conducted the tricjs of the republicans with a shame- 
lesaness of cruelty and an excess of rancour that were 
extraordinary. A sheriff struggled with Sir Hany 
Vane on the scaffold, nmimaging his pocketa, and 
taking from him a paper which he attempted to read. 
During the trial of Major-General Harrison, the hang- 
man was placed by his side, io a black dress, with a 
rope in his hand ; tliey sought to give him a full 
enjoyment of the foretaste of death. He was cut down 
alive from tlie gibbet, and disembowelled ; he saw hia 
entrails cast into the fire ; he was then quartered, and his 
still beating heart was torn out and shown to the peopl& 
The cavaliers gathered round for amusement Here and 
there one of them would do worse even than this. Colonel 
Turner, seeing them quarter John Coke, the lawyer, 
told the sheriff's men to bring Hugh Fetera, another of 
the condemned, nearer; the executioner came up, and 
rubbing his bloody hands, asked the unfortunate man 
* Ptpy^ Diary, voL ir., 29th Jnly 1887. 


if the work pleased him. The rotting bodies of Crom- 
well, IretoD and Bradsliaw were dug up in the night, 
and -their heads fixed on poles over Westminster Hall. 
Ladies went to see these disgusting sights ; the good 
Evelyn applauded them ; the courtiers made songs on 
them. These people were fallen so low, that they did 
not even turn sick at it. Sight and smell no longer 
aided humanity by producing repugnance ; their senses 
were as dead as their hearts. 

From carnage they threw themselves into debauchery. 
You should read the life of the Earl of Eochester, a 
courtier and a poet, who was the hero of the time. 
His manners were those of a lawless and wretched 
mountebank; his delight was to haunt the stews, to' 
debauch women, to write filthy songs and lewd pam- 
phlets ; he spent hia time between gossiping with the 
maids of honour, broils with men of letters, the re- 
ceiving of insults, the giving of blows. By way of 
playing the gallant, he eloped with his wife before he 
married her. Out of a spirit of bravado, he declined 
fighting a duel, and gained the name of a coward. Eor 
five years together he was said to be drunk. The spirit 
within hJTn failing of a worthy outlet, plunged him into 
adventures more befittii^ a clown. Once with the 
Duke of Buckingham he rented an inn on the I^ew- 
market road, and turned innkeeper, supplying the 
husbands with drink and defiling their wives. He 
introduced himself, disguised as an old woman, into the 
hooae of a miser, robbed him of his wife, and passed 
her on to Buckingham. The husband hanged himself ; 
they made very merry over the affair. At another time 
he disguised himself as a chairman, then as a beggar, and 
paid court to the gutter-girls. He ended by turning a 

VOL. u. z 

338 THE CLASSIC AGK book m. 

quack astrologer, and vendor of drugs for procuring abor- 
tion, in the suburbs. It was the licentiousness of a fervid 
imagination, which fouled itself as another would have 
adorned it, which forced its way into lewdness and folly 
as another would have done into sense and beauty. What 
can come of love in hands like these ? We cannot copy 
even the titles of his poems ; they were written only 
for the haunts of vice. Stendhal said that love is like 
a dried up bough cast into a mine ; the crystals cover 
it, spread out into filagree work, and end by converting 
the worthless stick into a sparkling tuft of the purest 
diamonds. Eochester begins by depriving love of all 
its adornment, and to make sure of grasping it, con- 
verts it into a stick. Every refined sentiment, every 
fancy; the enchantment, the serene, sublime glow 
which transforms in a moment this wretched world of 
ours ; the illusion which, \miting all the powers of our 
being, shows us perfection in a finite creature, and 
eternal bliss in a transient emotion, — all has vanished ; 
there remain but satiated appetites and palled 8ense& 
The worst of it is, that he writes without spirit, and 
methodicaUy enough. He has no natural ardour, no 
picturesque sensuality ; his satires prove him a disciple 
of Boileau. Nothing is more disgusting than obscenity 
in cold blood. We can endure the obscene works of 
Giulio Eomano, and his Venetian voluptuousness, be- 
cause in them genius sets oflf sensuality, and the loveli- 
ness of the splendid coloured draperies transforms an 
orgie into a work of art. We pardon Babelais, when 
we have entered into the deep current of manly joy 
and vigour, with which his feasts abound. We can 
hold our nose and have done with it, while we follow 
with admiration, and even sympathy, the torrent of 


ideas and fancies which flows through his mire. But 
to see a man trying to be elegant and remaining 
obscene, endeavouring to paint the sentiments of a 
navvy in the language of a man of the world, who 
tries to find a suitable metaphor for every kind of 
filth, who plays the blackguard studiously and de- 
liberately, who, excused neither by genuine feeling, nor 
the glow of fancy, nor knowledge, nor genius, degrades 
a good style of writing to such work, — ^it is like a 
rascal who sets himself to sully a set of gems in a 
gutter. ' The end of all is but disgust and illness. 
While La Fontaine continues to the last day capable 
of tenderness and happiness, this man at the age of 
thirty insults the weaker sex with spiteful malignity : 

" When she is young, she whores herself for sport ; 
And when she's old, she bawds for her support. . . . 
She is a snare, a shamble, and a stews ; 
Her meat and sauce she does for lechery chuse, 
And does in laziness delight the more, 
Because by that she is provoked to whore. 
Ungrateful, treacherous, enviously inclined, 
Wild beasts are tamed, floods easier far confined, 
Than is her stubborn and rebellious nund. . . . 
Her temper so extravagant we find, 
She hates, or is impertinently kind. 
Would she be grave, she then looks like a devil. 
And like a fool or whore, when she be civil . . . 
Contentious, wicked, and not fit to trust. 
And covetous to spend it on her lust." ^ 

What a confession is such a judgment I what an ab- 
stract of life ! You see the roisterer stupified at the 
end of his career, dried up like a mummy, eaten away 

^ Rochester'B works, edited by St Evremond. 

340 THE CLASSIC AGE. book m, 

by ulcers. Amid the choruses, the crude satires, the 
remembrance of plans miscarried, the sullied enjoyments 
which are heaped up in his wearied brain as in a sink, 
the fear of damnation is fermenting ; he dies a devotee 
at the age of thirty-three. 

At the head of all, the king sets the example. This 
" old goat," as the courtiera call him, imagines himself 
a man of gaiety and elegance. What gaiety ! what 
elegance ! French mannera do not suit men beyond 
the Channel When they are Catholics, they fall into 
narrow superatition ; when epicureans, into gross de- 
bauchery; when courtiers, into base servility; when 
sceptics, into vulgar atheism. The court of England 
could only imitate French furniture and dress. The 
regular and decent exterior which public taste main- 
tained at Versailles was here dispensed with as trouble- 
some. Charles and his brother, in their state dress, 
woidd set oflf running as in a carnival. On the day 
when the Dutch fleet burned the English ships in the 
Thames, the king supped with the Duchess of Mon- 
mouth, and amused himself by chasing a moth. In 
coimcil, while business was being transacted, he would 
be playing with his dog. Eochester and Buckingham 
insulted him by insolent repartees or dissolute epi- 
grams ; he would fly into a passion and suffer them to 
go on. He quarrelled with his mistress in public ; she 
called him an idiot, and he called her a jade. He 
woidd leave her in the morning, "so that the very 
sentrys speak of it."^ He suffered her to play hini 
false before the eyes of all ; at one time she received a 
couple of actors, one of whom was a mountebank. If 
need were, she would use abusive language to him. 

,^ Pepi/s* Diary, ii. January 1, 1662-1663. 


" The King hath declared that he did not get the child 
of which she is conceived at this time. But she told 
him, " . . . ! but you shaR own it." ^ Whereupon he 
did acknowledge the child, and took to himself a couple 
of actresses for consolation. When his new wife, 
Catherine of Braganza, arrived, he drove away her 
attendants, used coarse language to her, that he might 
force on her the familiarities of his mistress, and 
finished by degrading her to a friendship such as this. 
The good Pepys, not4hstanding his loyS feelings, ends 
by saying, having heard the king and the duke talk, 
and seeing and observing their manner of discourse, 
" God forgive me ! though I admire them with aU the 
duty possible, yet the more a man considers and 
observes them, the less he finds of difference between 
them and other men, though, blessed be Gk)d ! they are 
both princes of 'great nobleneas and spirits." ' He 
heard that, on a certain day, the king was so besotted 
with Mrs. Stewart that he gets " into comers, and will 
be with her half an hour together kissing her to the 
observation of aU the world." * Another day. Captain 
Ferrers told him " how, at a ball at Court, a child was 
dropped by one of the ladies in dancing." They took 
it off in a handkerchief, " and the King had it in his 
closet a week after, and did dissect it, making great 
sport of it."* These ghastly freaks and these lewd 
events make us shudder. The courtiers went with the 
stream. Miss Jennings, who became Duchess of Tyr- 
connel, disguised herself one day as an orange girl, and 
cried her wares in the street* Pepys recounts festi- 
vities in which lords and ladies smeared one another's 

1 Pepys' Diary, iv. July 30, 1667. 
« Ibid. iii. July 26, 1665. > Ihid. iL Nov. 9, 1663. 

♦ Ibid, ii Feb. 8, 17, 1662-8. » IHd. Feb. 21, 1664-1666. 

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::.r "iv.-rl I."- TLr».-ll..-:i :3Jl:: is. ih:*: iliis fair is 
n ■: ».-•...-!: i:.,y; ::.»_-^r j-t- -jle ^vt-Iv m:5iin:hr»«]»io. and 
l-r-ii::*.' i:."i^«S'.- ; ll.vv i|i;Mttr iljt: ;:l'H-imy Hol''i»e.s and he 
if liiriv».r. In IVi-.t. ilie I'liiKisoj-hy of Hobltes 
shall dve us ilie Ia<t 'n-«..rJ and the last characteristics 
of ihi.- »«.>cielv. 

Ilrililx'S was one of tlmse ]>owerful, liniiteil, and, as 
they are called, positive minds, so common in England, 
of the pchriol of Swift and IJentham, efficacious and 

* Tli« author has inadvertoiitly confound«il **my IjiJy Bennet" 
^l^lhe Counteu of Arlingtou. See Ptj»js' Diary, iv. Maiy 30, 1C6S, 
*.— Tu. 




remorseless as an iron machine. Hence we find in him 
a method and style of surprising dryness and vigour, 
most adapted to build up and pull down; hence a 
philosophy which, by the audacity of its teaching, has 
placed in an undying light one of the indestruct- 
ible phases of the human mind. In every object, 
every event, there is some primitive and constant fact, 
which forms, as it were, the nucleus around which 
group themselves the various developments which 
complete it The positive mind swoops down imme- 
diately upon this nucleus, crushes the brilliant growth 
which covers it ; disperses, annihilates it ; then, concen- 
trating upon it the full force of its violent grasp, loosens 
it, raises it up, shapes it, and lifts it into a conspicuous 
position, from whence it may henceforth shine out to all 
men and for all time like a crystal All ornament, all 
emotions, are excluded from the style of Hobbes ; it is 
a mere aggregate of arguments and concise facts in a 
small space, united together by deduction, as by iron 
bands. There are no tints, no fine or unusual word. 
He makes use only of words most familiar to common 
and lasting usage ; there are not a dozen employed by 
him which, during two hundred years, have grown 
obsolete ; he pierces to the root of all sensation, removes 
the transient and brilliant externals, narrows the solid 
portion which is the permanent subject-matter of all 
thought, and the proper object of common intelligence. 
He curtails throughout in order to strengthen ; he attains 
solidity by suppression. Of aU the bonds which connect 
ideas, he retains but one, and that the most stable ; his 
style is only a continuous chain of reasoning of the most 
stubborn description, wholly made up of additions and 
subtractions, reduced to a combination of certain simple 

344 THE CLASSIC AGK book m. 

ideas, which added on to or diminishing from one 
another, make up. under various n^imes. the totals or 
diiierences, of which we are for erer either studying the 
fonnation or unravelling the elements. He pursued 
beforehand the metbid oi Condillae, beginning with 
tracing to the original fact, palpablv and clearly, so as 
to pursue step by step the filiation and parentage of 
the ideas of which this primaiy fact is the stock, in 
such a manner that the reader, conducted from total to 
total, mav at anv moment test the exactness of his 
operation, and verify the truth of his results. Such a 
logical system cuts across the grain of prejudice with 
a mechanical stiffness and boldness. Hobbes clears 
science of scholastic words and theories. He laughs 
doiiTi quiddities, he does away with rational and intelli- 
gible classifications, he rejects the authority of refer- 
ences.^ He cuts, as with a surgeon's knife, at the heart 
of the most li\'ing creeds. He denies the authenticity 
of the books of Moses, Joshua, and the lika He 
declares that no argument proves the di\inity of Scrip- 
ture, and that, in order to believe it, every man requires 
a supernatural and personal revelation. He upsets in 
half-a-dozen words the authority of this and every other 
revelation.^ He reduces man to a mere body, the soul 

^ Though I reverence those men of ancient times that either have 
written truth perspicuously, or set it in a better way to find it out our- 
selves, yet to the antiquity itself, I think nothing due ; for if we 
reverence the age, the present is the oldest. — Hobbes* Works, Moles- 
worth, 11 vols. 8vo, 1839-45, iiL 712. 

' " To say he hath spoken to him in a dream, is no more than to 
say he dreame<l that God spake to him. ... To say he hath seen a vision 
or heard a voice, is to say that he has dreamed between sleeping and wak- 
ing. ... To say he speaks by supernatural inspiration, is to say he finds 
an ardent desiue to speak, or some strong opinion of himself for which he 
can allege no sufficient and natural reason. " — Ibid, iiL 361-2. 


to a function, God, to an unkuovn existeace. His 
phrases read like equations or mathematical results. In 
fact it ia from mathematics ' that he derives the idea 
of all science. He would reconstitute moral science 
on the same basis. He assigns to it this foimdation 
when he lajs dovn that sensation is an internal move- 
ment caused hy an external shock ; desire, an internal 
movement toward an external object; and he builds 
npon these two notions the whole system of morals. 
Again, be assigns to morals a mathematical method, 
when he distinguishes, like the geometrician, between 
two simple ideas, which he transforms by degrees into 
two more complex ; and when on the basis of sensation 
and desire he constructs the passions, the r%hts, and 
institutions of man, just as the geometrician out of 
straight lines and curves constructs all the varieties of 
figure. To morals he gives a mathematical aspect, by 
mapping out the incomplete and rigid construction of 
human life, like the network of imaginary forms which 
geometricians have conceived. For the iirst time 
there was discernible in him, as in Descartes, but 
exaggerated and standing out more conspicuously, that 
species of intellect which produced the classic age in 
Europe t not the independence of inspiration and 
genius which marked the Cenaissance ; not the mature 
experimental methods and conceptions of a^regates 
which distinguish the present age, hut the independence 

' " From the principfd parts of Natnre, Bessoo, uid Paaaion, luve 
proceeded two kinds of learning, mtU/ieyaatieai and dogmaiical. The 
foRuer is free trom controvera; and diipate, because it consistetli in 
comparing figure and motion only, in wMcli things tnUh and tA< interett 
ef men oppose not each other. But in the other there is nothing 
nndispntable, because it compares men, and meddles with tbeit right and 
profit"— Hobbea' Worku, Motesworth, 1 1 vok Sro, ISSMfi, ir. Epis. ded. 

346 THE CLASSIC A6K book m. 

of argumentatiYe teasoning, which dispensmg with the 
imagination, liberating itself from tradition, badly prac^ 
tising experience, acknowledges its queen in logic, its 
model in mathematics, its instrument in ratiocination, 
its audience in polished society, its employment in 
average truth, its subject-matter in abstract humanity, 
its formula in ideology, and in the French Bevolution 
at once its glory and its condemnation, its triumph and 
its close. 

But whereas Descartes, in the midst of a purified 
society and religion, noble and calm, enthroned intelli- 
gence and elevated man, Hobbes, in the midst of an 
overthrown society and a religion run mad, d^raded man 
and enthroned matter. Through disgust of Puritanism, 
the courtiers reduced human existence to an animal 
licentiousness ; through disgust of Puritanism, Hobbes 
reduced human nature to its merely animal aspect. 
The courtiers were practically atheists and brutish^ as 
he was atheistic and brutish in the pro\'ince of specu- 
lation. They had established the fashion of instinct 
and egotism ; he wrote the philosophy of egotism and 
instinct. They had wiped out from their hearts all 
refined and noble sentiments ; he wiped out from the 
heart all noble and refined sentiment. He arranged 
their manners into a theory, gave them the manual of 
their conduct, wrote down beforehand the maxims 
which they were to reduce to practice.^ With him, 
as with them, "the greatest good is the preservation 
of life and limb ; the greatest evil is death, especially 
with pain." Other goods and other evils are only the 
means of these. None seek or wish for anything 
but that which is pleasurable. " No man gives except 

* His chief works were written between 1646 and 1655. 


for a personal advantage." Why are friendships good 
things? "Because they are useful; friends serve for 
defence and otherwise." Why do we pity one another ? 
"Because we imagine that a similar misfortune may 
befall ourselves." Why is it noble to pardon him who 
asks it ? " Because thus one proves confidence in self." 
Such is the background of the human heart. Consider 
now what becomes of the most precious flowers in these 
bUghting hands. " Music, painting, poetry, are agree- 
able as imitations which recall the past, because if the 
past was good, it is agreeable in its imitation as a good 
thing ; but if it was bad, it is agreeable in its imitation 
as being past" To this gross mechanism he reduces 
the fine arts; it was perceptible in his attempt to 
translate the Uiad, In his sight, philosophy is a thing 
of like kind. " Wisdom is serviceable, because it has 
in it some kind of protection ; if it is desirable in itself, 
it is because it is pleasant" Thus thfere is no dignity in 
knowledge. It is a pastime or an assistance ; good, as a 
servant or a puppet is a good thing. Money being more 
serviceable, is worth more. "Not he who is wise is rich, as 
the Stoics say ; but, on the contrary, he who is rich is 
wise."^ As to religion, it is but "the fear of an in- 

^ Kemo dat nisi respiciens ad bonum sibi. 

Amicitis bonse, nempe utiles. Nam amicitis cum ad multa alia, 
turn ad praesidium conferunt. 

Sapientia utile. Nam pnesidium in se habet nonnullum. Etiam 
appetibile est per se, id est jucundum. Item pulchrum, quia acquisitu 

Non enim qui sapiens est, ut dixere stoici, dives est, sed contra qui 
dives est sapiens est dicendus est. 

Ignoscere veniam petenti pulchrum. Nam indicium fiducise sui. 

Imitatio jucundum : revocat enim prseterita. Prseterita autem si 
bona fnerint, jucunda sunt reprsesentata, quia bona; si mala, quia 
prseterita. Jucunda igitur musica, poesis pictura. — Hobbes' Opera 
LatinOf Molesworth, voL ii. 98-102. 

348 THE CLASSIC AGE. book hi. 

visible power, whether this be a figment, or adopted 
from history by general consent."^ Indeed, this was 
true for a Rochester or a Charles II. ; cowards or bullies, 
superstitious or blasphemers, they conceived of nothing 
beyond. Neither is there any natural right " Before 
men were bound by contract one with another, each 
had the right to do what he would against whom he 
would." Nor any natural friendship. " All association 
is for the cause of advantage or of glory, that is, for love 
of one's self, not of one's associates. The origin of great 
and durable associations is not mutual well-wishing but 
mutual fear. The desire of injuring is innate in alL 
Man is to man a wolf. . . . Warfare was the natural 
condition of men before societies were formed ; and this 
not incidentally, but of aU against aU : and this war is 
of its own nature eternal"^ Sectarian violence let 
loose, the conflict of ambitions, the fall of governments, 
the overflow of soured imaginations and malevolent 
passions, had raised up this idea of society and of man- 
kind. One and all, philosophers and people, yearned 
for monarchy and repose. Hobbes, an inexorable 
logician, would have it absolute; repression would 

^ Metus potentiaram invisibilium, sive fict® illae sint, sive ab 
historiis accept® sint publice, religio est si publice acceptie non sint, 
superstitio. — Hobbes' Opera Latina^ Molesworth, iii. 46. 

' Omnis igitur societas vel commodi causa vel glorise, hoc est, sol, 
non sociorum amore contrahitur. — Ihid. iL 161. 

Statucndum igitur est, originem magnarum et diuturnamm socie- 
tatum non a mutua hominum benevolentia, sed a mutuo metu ezstitisse. 
—Ihid. ii 161. 

Voluntas Isedendi omnibus quidem inest in statu naturse. — Ibid, iL 

Status hominum naturalis antequam in societatem coiretur bellnm 
fuerit ; neque hoc simpliciter, sed bellum omnium in omnes. — Ihid. ii. 

Bellum sua nature sempiteroum. — See 166, I. 16. 


thus be more stern, peace more lasting. The sove- 
reign should be unopposed. Whatsoever he might do 
against a subject, under whatever pretext, would not be 
injustice. He ought to decide upon the canonical books. 
He was pope, and more than pope. Were he to com- 
mand it, his subjects should renounce Christ, at least 
with their mouth; the original contract has given up 
to him, without any reservation, all responsibility of 
external actions ; at least, according to this view, the 
sectarian will no longer have the pretext of his con- 
science in harassing the state. To such extremities had 
the intense weariness and horror of civil war driven a 
narrow but logical intellect. Upon the secure den in 
which he had with every effort imprisoned and confined 
the evil beast of prey, he laid as a final weight, in order 
that he might perpetuate the captivity of humanity, the 
whole philosophy and theory not simply of man, but of 
the remainder of the universe. He reduced judgment 
to the " combination of two terms," ideas to conditions 
of the brain, sensations to motions of the body, general 
laws to simple words, all substance to corporeality, all 
science to the knowledge of sensible bodies, the human 
being to a body capable of motion given or received ; 
so that man, recognising himself and nature only under 
this despised form, and degraded in his conception of 
himself and of the world, might bow beneath the burden 
of a necessary authority, and submit in the end to the 
yoke which his rebellious nature rejects, yet is forced to 
tolerate.^ Such, in brief, is the aim which this spec- 

^ Corpus et substantia idem significant, et proinde vox composita 
substantia incorporea est insignificans seque ac si quis diceret corpus 
incorporeum. — Hobbes* Oj)era LcUinOy Molesworth, iii 281. 

Quidquid imaginamur finitum est. NuUa ergo est idea neqne con- 
ceptus qui oriri potest a yoce hac, infinitum. — Ibid. iiL 20. 

350 THE CLASSIC AGE. book m. 

tacle of the English Bestoration suggests. Men deserved 
then this treatment, because they gave birth to this 
philosophy ; they were represented on the stage as they 
had proved themselves to be in theoiy and in manners. 


When the theatres, which Parliament had closed, 
were re-opened, the change of public taste was soon 
manifested. Shirley, the last of the grand old school, 
wrote and lived no longer. Waller, Buckingham, and 
Dryden were compelled to dish up the plays of Shak- 
speare and Beaumont and Fletcher, and to adapt them 
to the modem style. Pepys, who went to see J/u2- 
summer Nights Dream, declared that he would never go 
there again ; " for it is the most insipid, ridiculous play 
that ever I saw in my life."^ Comedy was transformed ; 
the fact was, that the public was transformed. 

What an audience was that of Shakspeare and Beau- 
mont and Fletcher ! What youthful and delightful souls ! 
In this evil-smelling room in which it was necessary to 
bum jumper, before that miserable half-lighted stage, 
before decorations worthy of an alehouse, with men play- 
ing the women's parts, illusion enchained them. They 
scarcely troubled themselves about probabilities ; they 
could be carried in an instant over forest and ocean, 
from clime to cUme, across twenty years of time, through 

Recidit itaque ratiocinatio omnis ad doas operationes animi, addi- 
tionem et sabstractionem. — Hobbes* Opera Latino, Molesworth, L.S. 

Nomina signa sunt non renun sed cogitationem. — Ibid, L 15. 

Veritas enim in dicto non in re consistit. — Ibid, L 81. 

Sensio igitur in sentiente nihil aliud esse potest prseter motnm 
partium aliquarum intus in sentiente existentium, quae partes mota 
organorum quibus sentimas partes sunt — ibid, L 817. 

» Pepys* Diary, ii. Sept. 29, 1662. 


ten battles and all the hurty of adventure. They did 
not care to be always laughing ; comedy, after a burst 
of buffoonery, resumed ite serious or tender tone. They 
came less to be amused than to musa In these fresh 
tninds, amidst a woof of passions and dreams, there were 
hidden passions and brilliant dreams whose imprisoned 
Bwarm buzzed indistinctly, waiting for the poet to come 
and lay bare to them the novelty and the splendour of 
heaven. Landscapes revealed by a lightning flash, the 
gray mane of a long and overhanging billow, a wet 
forest nook where the deer raise their startled heads, 
the sadden smile and purpling cheek of a young girl 
in love, the sublime eiul various flight of dl delicate 
sentiments, a cloak o£ ecstatic and romantic passion 
over all, — these were the si^ts and feelings which 
th£y came to seek. Hey raised themselves without 
any assistance to the summit of the world of ideas ; they 
desired to contemplate extreme generosity, absolute love 
they were not astonished at the sight of fairy-land ; they 
entered wiUiout an efibrt into the region of poetical 
transformation, whose light was necessary to their eyes. 
They took in at a glance its excesses and its caprices ; 
they needed no preparation ; they followed its digres- 
sions, its whimsicalities, the crowding of its abundant 
creations, the sudden prodigality of its high colouring, 
as a musician follows a symphony. They were in that 
transient and strained condition in which the imagin- 
ation, adult and pure, laden with desue, curiosity, force, 
envelops man alt at once, and in that man the moat 
exalted and exquisite fedinga. 

The raisteieiB took the place of these. They were 
rich, they had tried to deck themselves with the polish 
of Frenchmen; they added to the st^e moveable decora- 

352 THE CLASSIC AGK book ni. 

tions, music, lights, probability, comfort, every external 
aid; but they wanted heart, Imagine those foppish 
and half-intoxicated men, who saw in love nothing 
beyond desire, and in man nothing beyond sensuality ; 
Rochester in the place of Mercutio. What part of his 
soul could comprehend poesy and fancy ? The comedy 
of romance was altogether beyond his reach ; he could 
only seize the actual world, and of this world but the 
palpable and gross externals. Give him an exact 
picture of ordinary life, commonplace and probable 
occurrences, literal imitations of what he himself was 
and did ; lay the scene in London, in the current year ; 
copy his coarse words, his brutal jokes, his conversation 
with the orange girls, his rendem^ous in the park, his 
attempts at French dissertation. Let him recognise 
himself, let him find again the people and the manners 
he had just left behind him in the tavern or the ante- 
chamber ; let the theatre and the street reproduce one 
another. Comedy will give him the same entertain- 
ment as real life ; he will wallow equally well there in 
vulgarity and lewdness; to be present there will 
demand neither imagination nor wit ; eyes and memory 
are the only requisites. This exact imitation will 
amuse him and instruct him at the same time. Filthy 
words will make liim laugh tlirough s}Tnpathy ; shame- 
less imagery will divert liim by appealing to his 
recollections. The author, too, will take care to arouse 
him by his plot, which generally has the deceiving of a 
father or a husband for its subject. The fine gentlemen 
agree with the author in siding with the gallant ; they 
follow his fortunes with interest, and fancy that they 
themselves have the same success with the fair. Add 
to this, women debauched, and willing to be debauched ; 


and it is manifest how these provocations, these 
manners of prostitutes, that interchange of exchanges 
and surprises, that carnival of rendezvous and suppers, 
the impudence of the scenes only stopping short of 
physical demonstration, those songs with their double 
meaning, that coarse slang shouted loudly and replied 
to amidst the tableaux vivaiUs, all that stage-imitation of 
orgie, must have stirred up t^e innermost feelings of 
the habitual practisers of intrigue. And what ia more, 
the theatre gave its sanction to tiieir manners. By 
representing nothing but vice, it authorised their vices. 
Authors laid it down as a rule, that all women were 
impudent hussies, and that all men were brutes. 
Debauchery in their bands became a matter of course, 
nay more, a matter of good taste; they profess it. 
Bochester and Charles II. could quit the theatre highly 
edi£ed; more con^anced than they were before that 
virtue was only a pretence, the pretence of clever 
rascals who wanted to sell themselves dear. 

Dryden, who was amongst the first ^ to adopt this 
view of the matter, did not adopt it heartily. A kind 
of hazy mist, the relic of the fonner age, still floated 
over his plays. His wealthy imagination half bound 
him to the comedy of romance. At one time he 
adapted Milton's Paradise, Shakspeare's Tempest, and 
TtoHus and Cressida. Another time he imitated, in 
Love in a NunTicry, in Marriage A la Mode, in TTie Mock 
Astrologer, the imbroglios and surprises of the Spanish 
stage. Sometimes he displays the sparkling images 

> His Wild OaOcmt dates &om 1662. 
VOL. U. 2 A 

354 THE CLASSIC AG^. book m. 

and lofty metaphors of the older national poets, some- 
times the affected figures of speech and cavilling wit of 
Calderon and Lope de Vega. He mingles the tragic 
and the humorous, the overthrow of thrones and die 
ordinary description of manners. But in this awkward 
compromise the poetic spirit of ancient comedy dis- 
appears ; only the dress and the gilding remain. The 
new characters are gross and immoral, with the instincts 
of a lackey beneath the dress of a lord ; which is the 
more shocking, because by it Dryden contradicts his 
own talents, being at bottom grave and a poet; he 
foUows the fashion, and not his own mind; he plays 
the libertine with deliberate forethought, to adapt him- 
self to the taste of the day.^ He plays the blackguard 
awkwardly and dogmatically; he is impious without 
enthusiasm, and in measured periods. One of his 
gallants cries : 

" Is not love love without a priest and altars ) 
The temples are inanimate, and know not 
What vows are made in them ; the priest stands ready 
For his hire, and cares not what hearts he couples ; 
Love alone is marriage." ^ 

Hippolita says, "I wished the ball might be kept 
perpetually in our cloister, and that half the handsome 

^ " We love to get our mistresses, and purr over them, as cats do 
over mice, and let them get a little way ; and all th6 pleasure is to pat 
them back again." — Mock Astrologer, ii. 1. 

Wildblood says to his mistress : " I am none of those unreasonable 
lovers that propose to themselves the loving to eternity. A month is 
commonly my stint.** And Jacintha replies : " Or would not a fort- 
night serve our turn ?" — Mock Astrologer, ii 1. 

Frequently one would think Dryden was translating Hobbes, by the 
harshness of his jests. 

' Love in a Ntmnery, ii 3. 


nuns in it might be turned to men, for the sake of the 
other." ^ Dryden has no tact or contrivance. In his 
Spanish Friar, the queen, a good enough woman, tells 
Torrismond that she is going to have the old dethroned 
king put to death, in order to marry him, Torrismond, 
more at her ease. Presently she is informed that the 
murder is completed. " What hinders now," says she, 
" but that the holy priest, in secret joins our mutual 
vows ? and then this night, this happy night, is yours 
and mine."^ Side by side with this sensual tragedy, a 
comic intrigue, pushed to the most indecent familiarity, 
exhibits the love of a cavalier for a married woman, who 
in the end turns out to be his sister. Dryden dis- 
covers nothing in this situation to shock him. He 
has lost the commonest repugnances of natural modesty. 
Translating any pretty broad play, Amphitryon for 
instance, he finds it too pure ; he strips off aU its small 
delicacies, and enlarges its very improprieties.^ Thus 
Jupiter says : 

*' For kings and priests are m a manner bound, 
For reverence sake, to be close hypocrites." * 

And he proceeds thereupon boldly to lay bare his own 

^ Love in a Nunnery ^ iii 3. 

* Spanish Friar, iii 8. And jumbled up with the plot we keep 
meetiiig with political allusions. This is a mark of the time. Torris- 
mond, to excuse himself from manying the queen, says, " Power which 
in one age is tyranny is ripen'd in the next to true succession. She's 
in possession.'* — Spanish Friar, iv. 2. 

• Plautus' Amphitryon has been imitated by Dryden and Moli^re. 
Sir Walter Scott, in the introduction to Dryden's play, says: " He is, 
in general, coarse and vulgar, where Moli^re is witty ; and where the 
Frenchman yentures upon a double meaning, the Englishman always 
contrives to make it a single one." — ^Tb. 

^ Amphitryon, L 1. 

356 THE CLASSIC AGE. book m, 

despotism. In reality, his sophisms and his shameless- 
ness serve Dryden as a means of decrying by rebound 
the arbitrary Divinity of the theologians. He lets 
Jupiter say : 

" Fate is what I, 

By virtue of omnipotence, have made it ; 

And power omnipotent can do no wrong ! 

Not to myself, because I will it so ; 

Nor yet to men, for what they are is mine. — 

This night I will enjoy Amphitryon's wife ; 

For when I made her, I decreed her such 

As I should please to love." ^ 

This open pedantry is changed into open lust as soon as 
Jupiter sees Alcmena. No detail is omitted : Jupiter 
speaks his whole mind to her, and before the maids ; 
and next morning, when he is going away, she outdoes 
him : she hangs on to him, and indulges in the most 
familiar details. All the noble externals of high gallantry 
are torn off like a troublesome garment ; it is a cynical 
recklessness in place of aristocratic decency ; the scene 
is written after the example of Charles II. and Castle- 
maine, not of Louis XIV. and Mme. de Montespan.* 

* Amphitryon^ i. 1. 

' As Jupiter is departing, on the plea of daylight, Alcmena says to 

him : 

" But you and I will draw our curtains close, 

FiXtinguish daylight, and put out the sun. 

Come back, my lord. . . . 

You have not yet laid long enough in bed 

To warm your widowed side." — Act ii. 2. 

Compare Plautus' Roman matron and Molifere's honest French- 
woman with this expansive female. [Louis XIV. and Made, de Monte- 
span were not very decent either. See M€moires de Saint Simon.] — Tb. 


I pass over several writers : Crowne, author of Sir 
Courtly Nice; Shadwell, an imitator of Ben Jonson; 
Mrs. Aphra Behn, who calls herself Astraea, a spy and 
a courtesan, paid by government and the public. 
Etherege is the first to set the example of imitative 
comedy in his Man of Fashion, and to depict only the 
manners of his age ; for the r«st he is an open roisterer, 
and frankly describes his habits : 

" From hunting whores, and haunting play. 
And minding nothing all the day, 
And all the night too, you will say." ... 

Such were his pursuits in London ; and further on, in a 
letter from Eatisbon to Lord Middleton, 

" He makes grave legs in formal fetters, 
Converses with fools and writes dull letters ; " 

and gets small consolation out of the German ladies. 
In this grave mood Etherege undertook the duties of 
an ambassador. One day, having dined too freely, he 
fell from the top of a staircase, and broke his neck ; a 
death of no great importance. But the hero of this 
society was William Wycherley, the coarsest writer who 
ever polluted the stage. Being sent to France during 
the Revolution, he there became a Roman Catholic; 
then on his return abjured ; then in the end, as Pope tells 
us, abjured again. Robbed of their Protestant ballast, 
these shallow brains ran from dogma to dogma, from 
superstition to incredulity or indifference, to end in a state 
of fear. He had learnt at M. de Montausier^s^ residence 

^ Himself a Huguenot, who had become a Roman Catholic, and the 
husband of Julie d'Angennes, for whom the French poets composed the 
Celebrated Ouirlandt, — Tb. 

858 THE CLASSIC AGE. book m. 

the art of wearing gloves and a peruke, which sufficed 
in those days to make a gentleman. This merit, and 
the success of a filthy piece. Love in a Wood, drew upon 
him the eyes of the Duchess of Cleveland, mistress of 
the king and of anybody. This woman, who used to 
have amours with a rope-dancer, picked him up one 
day in the very midst of the Ring. She put her head 
out of her carriage-window, and cried to him before aU, 

" Sir, you are a rascal, a villain, the son of a /' 

Touched by this compliment, he accepted her favours, 
and in consequence obtained those of the king. He 
lost them, married the Countess of Drogheda, a woman 
of bad temper, ruined himself, remained seven years in 
prison, passed the remainder of his life in pecuniary 
difficulties, regretting his youth, losing his memory, 
scribbling bad verses, which he got Pope to correct, 
amidst many twitches of wounded self-esteem, stringing 
together dull obscenities, dragging his worn out body 
and enervated brain through the stages of misanthropy 
and libertinage, playing the miserable part of a tooth- 
less roisterer and a white-haired blackguard. Eleven 
days before his death he married a young girl, who 
turned out to be a strumpet He ended as he had 
begun, by stupidity and misconduct, having succeeded 
neither in becoming happy nor honest, having used his 
vijgorous intelligence and real talent only to his own 
injury and the injury of others. 

The reason was, that Wycherley was not an epicurean 
bom. His nature, genuinely English, that is to say, 
energetic and sombre, rebelled against the easy and 
amiable carelessness which enables one to take life as 
a pleasure-party. His style is laboured, and trouble- 
some to read. His tone is virulent and bitter. He 


frequently forces his comedy in order to get at spiteful 
satire. Effort and animosity mark aU that he says or 
puts into the mouths of others. It is Hobbes, not 
meditative and calm, but active and angry, who sees in 
man nothing but vice, yet feels himself man to the very 
core. The only fault he rejects is hypocrisy ; the only 
virtue he preaches is frankness. He wants others to 
confess their vice, and he begins by confessing his own. 
" Though I cannot lie like them (the poets), I am as 
vain as they ; I cannot but publicly give your Grace 
my humble acknowledgments. . . . This is the poet's 
gratitude, which in plain English is only pride and 
ambition." ^ We find in him no poetry of expression, 
no glimpse of the ideal, no settled morality which 
could console, raise, or purify men. He shuts them up 
in their perversity and imcleanness, and installs him- 
self among them. He shows them the filth of the 
lowest depths in which he confines them ; he expects 
them to breathe this atmosphere; he plimges them 
into it, not to disgust them with it as by an accidental 
fall, but to accustom them to it as if it were their 
natural element He tears down the partitions and 
decorations by which they endeavour to conceal their 
state, or regulate their disorder. He takes pleasure in 
making them fight, he delights in the hubbub of their 
unfettered instincts; he loves the violent changes of 
the human mass, the confusion of their wicked deeds, 
the rawness of their bruises. He strips their lusts, 
sets them forth at full length, and of course feels them 
himself; and whilst he condemns them as nauseous, 

* The Dramatic Works of Wycherley, Congreve, Vdnbrugh, and 
Farquhar^ ed. Leigh Hunt, 1840. Dedication of Love in a Wood to 
her Grace the Duchess of Cleveland. 

360 THE CLASSIC AGE. book m. 

he enjoys them. People take what pleasure they can 
get : the drunkards in the suburbs, if asked how they 
can relish their miserable liquor, will teU you it makes 
them drunk as soon as better stuff, and that is the only 
pleasure they have. 

I can understand that an author may dare much in 
a novel. It is a psychological study, akin to criticism 
or history, having almost equal license, because it con- 
tributes almost equally to explain the anatomy of the 
heart. It is quite necessary to expose moral diseases, 
especially when this is done to add to science, coldly, 
accurately, and in the fashion of a dissection. Such a 
book is by its nature abstruse ; it must be read in the 
study, by lamp-light. But transport it to the stage, 
exaggerate the bed-room liberties, give them additional 
life by a few disreputable scenes, bestow bodily vigour 
upon them by the energetic action and words of the 
actresses; let the eyes and the senses be filled with 
them, not the eyes of an individual spectator, but of a 
thousand men and women mingled together in the pit, 
excited by the interest of the story, by the correctness 
of the literal imitation, by the glitter of the lights, by 
the noise of applause, by the contagion of impressions 
which run like a shudder through fiery and longing 
minds. That was the spectacle which Wycherley 
furnished, and which the court appreciated. Is it 
possible that a public, and a select public, could come 
and listen to such scenes ? In Love in a Wood, amidst 
the complications of nocturnal rendezvous, and viola- 
tions effected or begun, we meet with a witling, named 
Dapperwit, who desires to sell his mistress Lucy to a 
fine gentleman of that age, Ranger. With what mi- 
nuteness he bepraises her I He knocks at her door ; the 



intended purchaser meantime, growing impatient, is 
treating him like a slave. The mother comes in, but 
Tvishiug to sell Lncy herself and for her own advantage, 
scolds them and packs them off. Next appears an old 
puritanical usurer and hypocrite, named Gripe, who at 
first will not bargain : — 

" Mti. Joyner. Tou miut send for Bomething to eotertain her 
with. . . . Upon my life a groat ! what will thie porchase t 

Gript. Two black pots of ale and a cake, at the cellar. — 
Come, the wine has arsenic in't. . . . 

Mrt. J. A treat of a groat 1 I will not wag. 

0. Why dont you go t Here, take more money, and fetch 
what you will ; take here, half-a-crown. 

Mn. J. What will half-a-crown do I 

G. Take a crown then, an angel, a piece ; — ^begone ! 

Mr*. J. A treat only will not serve my turn ; I must buy 
the poor wretch there aome toys. 

O. What toya f what 1 speak quickly. 

Mr$. J. Pendants, necklaces, fans, ribbons, points, laces, 
stockings, gloves. . . . 

Q. But here, take half a piece for the other things. 

Mrt. J. Half a piece ! — 

G. Prithee, begone ! — take t'other piece then — two pieces — 
three pieces — five ! here ; 'tis all I have. 

Mr>. J, I must have the broad-seal ring too, or I stir not." ^ 

She goes away at last, having extorted all, and Lucy 
plays the innocent, seems to think that Gripe is a 
dancing-master, and asks for a lesson. What scenes, 
what double meanings ! At last she calls out, her 
mother, Mrs. Crossbite, breaks open the door, and 
enters with men placed there beforehand; Gripe ia 

362 THE CLASSIC AGE. book m. 

caught in the trap ; they threaten to call in the con- 
stable, they swindle him out of five hundred pounds. 

Need I recount the plot of the CourUry Wife f It 
is useless to wish to skim the subject only; we 
sink deeper and deeper. Homer, a gentleman re- 
turned from France, spreads the report that he is no 
longer able to trouble the peace of husbands. You 
may imagine what becomes of such a subject in Wy- 
cherley's hands, and he draws from it all that it 
contains. Women converse about Homer's condition, 
even before him ; they suffer themselves to be unde- 
ceived, and boast of it. Three of them come to him 
and feast, drink, sing — such songs ! The excess of 
orgie triumphs, adjudges itself the crown, displays itself 
in maxims. " Our virtue," says one of them, " is like 
the statesman's religion, the quaker's word, the game- 
sterns oath, and the great man's honour; but to cheat 
those that trust us."^ In the last scene, the suspicions 
which had been aroused, are set at rest by a new de- 
claration of Homer. All the marriages are polluted, 
and the carnival ends by a dance of deceived husbands. 
To crown all, Homer recommends his example to the 
public, and the actress who comes on to recite the 
epilogue, completes the shamefulness of the piece, by 
warning gallants that they must look what they are 
doing ; for that if they can deceive men, " we women 
— there's no cozening us." ^ 

But the special and most extraordinary sign of the 
times is, that amid all these provocatives, no repellent 
circumstance is omitted, and that the narrator seems to 

» T?ie Country TFi/e, v. 4. 

' Read the epilogue, and see what words and details authors dand 
then to put in the mouths of actresses. , 


aim as much at disgusting as at depraving us.^ Every 
moment the fine gentlemen, even the ladies, introduce 
into their conversation the ways and means by which, 
since the sixteenth century, love has endeavoured to 
adorn itself. Dapperwit, when making an offer of Lucy, 
says, in order to account for the delay: "Pish! give 
her but leave to . . . put on . . . the long patch imder 
the left eye ; awaken the roses on her cheeks with some 
Spanish wool, and warrant her breath with some lemon- 
peeL" * Lady Flippant, alone in the park, cries out : 
" Unfortunate lady that I am ! I have left the herd on 
purpose to be chased, and have wandered this hour 
here ; but the park affords not so much as a satyr for 
me; and no Burgundy man or drunken scourer will 
reel my way. The rag-women and cinder-women have 
better luck than I." ^ 

Judge by these quotations, which are the best, of the 
remainder ! Wycherley makes it his business to revolt 
even the senses ; the nose, the eyes, everything suffers in 
his plays ; the audience must have had the stomach of a 
sailor. And from this abyss English literature has as- 
cended to the strict morality, the excessive decency 
which it now possesses ! This stage is a declared war 
against beauty and delicacy of every kind. K Wycherley 
borrows a character anywhere, it is only to do violence, 

^ " That spark, who has his fruitless designs upon the bed-ridden 
rich widow, down to the sucking heiress in her . . . clout." — Love 
in a Wood, L 2. 

Mrs. Flippant : " Though I had married the fool, I thought to have 
reserved the wit as well as other ladies." — Ibid, 

Dapperwit : " I will contest with no rival, not with my old rival 
your coachman." — Ibid. 

" She has a complexion like a holland cheese, and no more teeth left, 
than such as give a haut goiit to her breath." — Ibid, ii. 1. 

* Love in a Wood, iii 2. * Ilnd. v. 2. 

364 THE CLASSIC AGE. book m. 

or degrade it to the level of his own characters. If he 
imitates the Agnes of Moli^re/ as he does in the Country 
Wife, he marries her in order to profane marriage, de- 
prives her of honour, still more of modesty, still more of 
grace, and changes her artless tenderness into shameless 
instincts and scandalous confessions. If he takes 
Shakespeare's Viola, as in the Plain Dealer, it is to drag 
her through the vileness of infamy, amidst brutalities 
and surprises. If he translates the part of Moli^re's 
C^lim^ne, he ^vipes out at one stroke the manners of a 
great lady, the woman's delicacy, the t€U5t of the lady of 
the house, the politeness, the refined air, the superiority 
of wit and knowledge of the world, in order to substi- 
tute for them the impudence and deceit of a foul- 
mouthed courtesan. If he invents an abnost innocent 
girl, Hippolita,^ he begins by putting into her mouth 
words that will not bear transcribing. Whatever he 
does or says, whether he copies or originates, blames or 
praises, his stage is a defamation of mankind, which 
repels even when it attracts, and which sickens a man 
while it corrupts. 

A certain gift hovers over all — namely, vigour — 

^ The letter of Agnes, in Molifere's TEcoU des Femmes, iiL 4, "begins 
thus: **Je veux vous ^crire, et je suis bien en peine par ou je m*y 
prendrai. J'ai des pensees que je d^sirerais que vous sussiez ; mais je 
ne sals comment faire pour vous les dire, et je me defie de mes paroles," 
etc. Observe how Wycherley translates it : ** Dear, sweet Mr. Homer, 
my husband would have me send you a base, rude, unmannerly letter ; 
but I won't — and would have me forbid you loving me ; but I won't — 
and would have me say to you, I hate you, poor Mr. Homer ; but I 
won't tell a lie for him — for I'm sure if you and I were in the coontiy 
at cards together, I could not help treading on your toe under the 
table, or mbbing knees with you, and staring in your face, till you saw 
me, and then looking down, and blushing for an hour together," etc 
— Country Wife^ iv. 2. 

* In the Oentleman Dancing-Master, 


which is never absent in England, and gives a peenliar 
character to their virtnes as well as to their vices. 
When we have removed the oratorical and heavily con- 
structed phrases imitated from the French, we get at the 
genuine English talent — a deep sympathy with nature 
and life. Wycherley possessed that lucid and \igorous 
perspicacity which in any particular situation seizes upon 
gesture, physical expression, evident detail, which pierces 
to the depths of the crude and base, which hits off, not 
men in general, and passion as it ought to be, but an in- 
dividual man, and passion as it is. He is a realist, not 
of set purpose, as the realists of our day, but naturaUy. 
In a violent manner he lays on his plaster over the 
grinning and pimpled faces of his rascals, in order to 
bring before our very eyes the stem mask to which the 
living imprint of their ugliness has stuck on the way. 
He crams his plays with incident, he multiplies action, 
he pushes comedy to the verge of dramatic effect ; he 
hustles his characters amidst surprises and violence, 
und aU but stultifies them in order to exaggerate his 
satire. Observe in Olivia, a copy of Celim^ne, the fury 
of the passions which he depicts. She describes her 
Mends as does C<51im^ne, but with what insults ! Novel, 
a coxcomb, says : 

" Madam, I have been treated to-day with all the ceremony 
and kindness imaginable at my lady Autumn's. But the nause- 
ous old woman at the upper end of her table ' . . . 

Olivia : " Revives the old Grecian custom, of serving in a 
death's head with their banquets. ... I detest her hollow 
cherry cheeks : she looks like an old coach new painted. . . . 
She is still most splendidly, gallantly ugly, and looks like an 
ill piece of daubing in a rich frame." ^ 

1 ITie Plain Dealer, ii. 1. 

366 THE CLASSIC AGE. book m. 

The scene is borrowed from Moli^re's Misanthrope 
and the Critique de TEcole des Femmes ; but how trans- 
formed ! Our modem nerves would not endure the 
portrait Olivia draws of Manly, her lover ; he hears her 
imawares ; she forthwith stands before him, laughs at 
him to his face, declares herself to be married ; tells ^im 
she means to keep the diamonds which he has given 
her, and defies him. FideUa says to her : 

" But, madam, what could make you dissemble love to hinff^ 
when 'twas so hard a thing for you ; and flatter his love to you t ** 

Olivia. " That which makes all the world flatter and dis- 
semble, 'twas his money : I had a real passion for that. . . . 
As soon as I had his money, I hastened his departure like a 
wife, who when she has made the most of a dyiog husband's 
breath, pulls away his pillow." ^ 

The last phrase is rather that of a morose satirist than of 
an accurate observ^er. The woman's impudence is like 
a professed courtesan's. In love at first sight with 
Fidelia, whom she takes for a young man, she hangs 
upon her neck, " stuffs her with kisses," gropes about in 
the dark, crjdng, "Where are thy lips?" There is a 
kind of animal ferocity in her lova She sends her 
husband off by an improvised comedy ; then skipping 
about like a dancing girl cries out : " Go, husband, and 
come up, friend; just the buckets in the well; the 
absence of one brings the other." " But I hope, like 
them too, they will not meet in the way, jostle, and 
clash together."^ Surprised in flagrante delicto, and 
having confessed all to her cousin, as soon as she sees 
a chance of safety, she swallows her avowal with the 
effrontery of an actress : — 

1 The Plain Dealer, iv. 2. • Ihid. 


'' Miza, Well, couBin, this, I confess, was reasonable hypo- 
crisy ; you were the better for \ 
. Olivia, What hypocrisy ? 

E, Why, this last deceit of your husband was lawful, since 
in your own defence. 

0, What deceit ? I'd have you know I never deceived my 

E. You do not understand me, sure; I say, this was an 
honest come-off, and a good one. But 'twas a sign your gallant 
had had enough of your conversation, since he could so dexter- 
ously cheat your husband in passing for a woman. 

0. What d'ye mean, once more, with my gallant, and passing 
for a woman 9 

E, What do you mean 1 you see your husband took him for 
a woman! 

0. Whom? 

E, Heyday ! why, the man he found with. . . . 

0, Lord, you rave sure ! 

E. Why, did you not tell me last night. . . . Fy, this fooling 
is so insipid, 'tis offensive. 

0, And fooling with my honour will be more offensive. . . . 

E. admirable confidence ! . . . 

0. Confidence, to me ! to me such language ! nay, then Fll 
never see your j&ce again. . . . Lettice, where are you ? Let us 
begone firom this censorious ill woman. . . . 

E, One word first, pray, madam ; can you swear that whom 
your husband found you with . . . 

0. Swear ! ay, that whosoever 'twas that stole up, unknown, 
into my room, when 'twas dark, I know not, whether man or 
woman, by heavens, by all that's good ; or, may I never 
more have joys here, or in the other world! Nay, may I 
eternally — 

E, Be damned. So, so, you are damned enough ahready by 
your oaths. . . . Yet take this advice with you, in this plain- 
dealing age, to leave off forswearing yourself. ... 

368 THE CLASSIC AGE. book m, 

0. hideous, hideous advice ! let us go out of the hearing 
of it. She will spoil us, Lettice." ^ 

Here is animation ; and if I dared to relate the boldness 
and the asseveration in the night scene, it would easily 
appear that Mme. Mame£fe^ had a sister, and Balzac 
a predecessor. 

There is a character who shows in a concise manner 
Wycherle/s talent and his morality, wholly formed of 
energy and indelicacy, — Manly, the " plain dealer," so 
manifestly the author's favourite, that his contemporaries 
gave him the name of his hero for a surname. Manly 
is copied after Alceste, and the great difference between 
the two heroes shows the difference between the two 
societies and the two countries.^ Manly is not & 
courtier, but a ship-captain, with the bearing of a sailor 
of the time, his cloak stained with tar, and smelling of 
brandy,* ready with blows or foul oaths, calling those he 
came across dogs and slaves, and when they displeased 
him, kicking them down stairs. And he speaks in this 
fashion to a lord with a voice like a mastiff. Then, 
when the poor nobleman tries to whisper something in 
his ear, " My lord, all that you have made me know by 
your whispering which I knew not before, is that you 

^ The Plain Dealer y v. 1 ^ See note, vol. i. page 41. 

' Compare with the sayings of Alceste, in Molifcre's Misanthrope^ 
such tirades as this : ** Such as you, like common whores and pick- 
pockets, are only dangerous to those you embrace." And with the 
character of Philinte, in the same French play, such phrases as these : 
*' But, faith, could you think 1 was a friend to those I hugged, kissed, 
flattered, howed to ? WTien their backs were turned, did not I tell you 
they were rogues, villains, rascals, whom I despised and hated ? " 

* Olivia says : " Then shall I have again my alcove smell like a 
cabin, my chamber perfumed with his tarpaulin Brandenbuigh ; and 
hear vollies of brandy -sighs, enough to make a fog in one's room." — 
The Plain Dealer ^ iL 1. 


have a stinking breath ; there's a secret for your secret." 
When he is in OUvia's drawing-room, with "these 
fluttering parrots of the town, these apes, these echoes 
of men," he bawls out as if he were on his quarter-deck, 
" Peace, you Bartholomew fair buffoons !" He seizes 
them by the collar, and says: "Why, you impudent, 
pitiful wretches, . . . you are in all things so like 
women, that you may think it in me a kind of cowardice 
to beat you. Begone, I say. ... No chattering, 
baboons; instantly begone, or" . . . Then he turns 
them out of the roonL These are the manners of a 
plain-dealing mart He has been ruined by Olivia, 
whom he loves, and who dismisses him. Poor Fidelia, 
disguised as a man, and whom he takes for a timid 
youth, comes and finds him while he is fretting with 

^* Fidelia. I warrant you, sir ; for, at worst, I could beg or 
steal for you. 

Manly. Nay, more bragging ! . . . You said you'd beg for 

F. I did, sir. 

M. Then you shall beg for me. 

F. With all my heart, sir. 

M. That is, pimp for me. 

F. How, air ? 

M. D'ye start 1. . . No more dissembling: here (I say,) 
you must go use it for me to Olivia. . . . Go, flatter, lie, kneel, 
promise, anything to get her for me : I cannot live unless I 
have her." ^ 

And when Fidelia returns to him, saying that Olivia 
has embraced her, by force, in a fit of love, he ex- 
claims; "Her love! — a whore's, a witch's love! — 

1 The Plain Dealer, iii. 1. 
VOL. n. 2 B 

370 THE CLASSIC AGE. book ni. 

But what, did she not kiss well, sir? Tm sure, I 
thought her lips — but I must not think of 'em more 
— but yet they are such I could still kiss, — grow to, — 
and then tear off with my teeth, grind 'em into 
mammocks, and spit 'em into her cuckold's face."^ 
These savage words indicate savage actions. He goes 
by night to enter Olivia's house with Fidelia, and under 
her name; and Fidelia tries to prevent him, through 
jealousy. Then his blood boils, a storm of fury moimts 
to his face, and he speaks to her in a whispering, hiss- 
ing voice : " What, you are my rival, then ! and there- 
fore you shall stay, and keep the door for me, whilst I 
go in for you ; but when I'm gone, if you dare to stir 
off from this very board, or breathe the least murmuring 
accent, I'll cut her throat first ; and if you love her, you 
will not venture her life. — Nay, then I'll cut your throat 
too, and I know you love your own life at least. . . . 
Not a word more, lest I begin my revenge on her by 
killing you."^ He knocks over Olivia's husband, another 
traitor seizes from her the casket of jewels he had 
given her, casts her one or two of them, saying, " Here, 
madam, I never yet left my wench impaid," and gives 
this same casket to Fidelia, whom he marries. All 
these actions then appeared natural. Wycherley took to 
himself in his dedication the title of his hero. Plain 
Dealer ; he fancied he had drawn the portrait of a frank, 
honest man, and praised himself for having set the 
public a fine example ; he had only given them the 
model of an unreserved and energetic bruta That was 
all the manliness that was left in this pitiable world. 
Wycherley deprived man of his ill-fitting French cloak, 

1 The Plain, Dealer, iv. 1. * Ibid, iv. 2. 


and displayed him with his framework of muscles, and 
in his naked shamelessness. 

And in the midst of all these, a great poet, bHnd, and 
sunk into obscurity, his soul saddened by the misery of 
the times, thus depicted the madness of the infernal rout : 

" Belial came last, than whom a spirit more lewd 
Fell not from heaven, or more gross to love 
Vice for itself . . . who more oft than he 
In temples and at altars, when the priest 
Turns atheist, as did Eli's sons, who fill'd 
With lust and violence the house of God ? 
In courts and palaces he also reigns, 
And in luxurious cities, where the noise 
Of riot ascends above their loftiest towers, 
And injury, and outrage : and w^hen night 
Darkens the streets, then wander forth the sons 
Of Belial, flown with insolence and wine." ^ 

2. The Worldlings. 


In the seventeenth century a new mode of life was 
inaugurated in Europe, the worldly, which soon took 
the lead of and shaped every other. In France especi- 
ally, and in England, it appeared and gained ground, 
from the same causes and at the same time. 

In order to people the drawing-rooms, a certain 
political condition is necessary; and this condition, 
which is the supremacy of the king in combination with 
a regular system of police, was established at the same 
period on both sides of the Channel A regular police 
brings about peace among men, draws them out of their 

^ Paradise Lost, book L I. 490-502. 

372 THE CLASSIC AGE. book ra. 

feudal independence and provincial isolation, increases 
and facilitates intercommunication, confidence, union, 
comfort, and pleasures. The kingly supremacy calls 
into existence a court, the centre of intercourse, from 
wliich all favours flow, and which calls for a display of 
pleasure and splendour. The aristocracy thus attracted 
to one another, and attracted to the throne by security, 
curiosity, amusement, and interest, meet together, and 
become at once men of the world and men of the court 
They are no longer, like the barons of a preceding age, 
standing in their lofty halls, armed and stem, possessed 
by the idea that they might perhaps, when they quit 
their palace, cut each other to pieces, and that if they 
fall to blows in the precincts of the court, the exe- 
cutioner is ready to cut off their hand and stop 
the bleeding with a red-hot iron; knowing, more- 
over, that the king may probably have them beheaded 
to-morrow, and ready accordingly to cast themselves on 
their knees and break out into protestations of sub- 
missive fidelity, but coimting imder their breath the 
number of swords that wiU be mustered on their side, 
and the trusty men who keep sentinel behind the 
drawbridge of their castles.^ The rights, privileges, 
constraints, and attractions of feudal life have dis- 
appeared. There is no more need that the manor 
should be a fortress. These men can no longer experi- 
ence the joy of reigning there as in a petty state. It 
has palled on them, and they quit it. Having no 
further cause to quarrel with the king, they go to him. 
His court is a drawing-room, most agreeable to the 
sight, and most serviceable to those who frequent it 
Here are festivities, splendid furniture, a decked and 

^ Consult all Shakspeare's historical plays. 


select company, news and tittle-tattle; here they find 
pensions, titles, places for themselves and their friends ; 
they receive amusement and profit ; it is all gain and 
all pleasure. Here they attend the lev^e, are present at 
dinners, return to the ball, sit down to play, are there 
when the king goes to bed. Here they cut a dash 
with their half-French dress, their wigs, their hats 
loaded with feathers, their trunk-hose, their cannions, 
the large rosettes on their shoes. The ladies paint and 
patch their faces, display robes of magnificent satin 
and velvet, laced up with silver and very long, and 
above you may see their white busts, whose brilliant 
nakedness is extended to their shoulders and arms. 
They are gazed upon, saluted, approached. The king 
rides on horseback in Hyde Park ; by his side canter 
the queen, and with her the two mistresses. Lady Castle- 
maine and Mrs. Stewart : " the queen in a white-laced 
waistcoate and a crimson short pettycoate, and her 
hair dressed d la rUgligcnce ; . . Mrs. Stewart with her 
hat cocked and a red plume, with her sweet eye, little 
Roman nose, and excellent taiUe." ^ Then they returned 
to Whitehall " where all the ladies walked, talking and 
fiddling with their hats and feathers, and changing and 
trying one another's by one another's heads, and laugh- 
ing." ^ In such fine company there was no lack of 
gallantry. Perfumed gloves, pocket mirrors, work-cases 
fitted up, apricot paste, essences, and other little love- 
tokens, came over every week from Paris. London 
furnished more substantial gifts, ear-rings, diamonds, 
brilliants, and golden guineas; the fair ones put up 
with these, as if they had come from a greater distance.^ 

1 Pepy^ Diary, ii. July 18, 1663. » Ibid, 

' Mimoires de GrammorU, by A. Hamilton. 

374 THE CLASSIC AGK book m. 

There were plenty of intrigues — ^Heaven knows how 
many or of what kind. Naturally, also, conversation 
does not stop. They did not mince the adventures 
of Miss Warmest!^ the haughty, who, " deceived ap- 
parently by a bad reckoning, took the liberty of 
lying-in in the midst of the court." ^ They spoke in 
whispers about the attempts of Miss Hobart, or the 
happy misfortune of Miss Churchill, who, being very- 
plain, but having the wit to fall from her horse, touched 
the eyes and heart of the Duke of York. The 
Chevalier de Granunont relates to the king the history 
of Termes, or of Poussatin the almoner : every one 
leaves the dance to hear it ; and when it is over, they 
all burst out laughing. We perceive that this is not 
the world of Louis XIV., and yet it is a world ; and if 
it has more froth, it runs with the identic^ current 
The great object here also is selfish amusement, and to 
put on appearances ; people strive to be men of fashion ; 
a coat bestows a certain kind of glory on its wearer. 
De Grammont was in despair when the roguery of his 
valet obliged him to wear the same suit twice over. 
Another courtier piques himself on his songs and his 
guitar-playing. " Eussell had a collection of two or 
three hundred quadrilles in tablature, all of which he 
used to dance without ever having studied them." 
Jermyn was kno\\Ti for his success with the fair. " A 
gentleman," said Etherege, " o\ight to dress weU, dance 
well, fence well, have a talent for love-letters, a pleasant 
voice in a room, to be always very amorous, sufficiently 
discreet, but not too constant." These are already the 
court manners as they continued in France up to the 
time of Louis XVI. With such manners, words take 

^ Mimoircs dc Grammo^U, by A. Hamilton, ch. ix. 


the place of deeds. Life is passed in visits and con- 
versation. The art of conversing became the chief of 
all ; of course, to converse agreeably, to fill up an idle 
hour, on twenty subjects in an hour, hinting always, 
without going deep,* in such a fashion that conversation 
should not be a labour, but a promenade. It was 
followed up by letters written in the evening, by 
madrigals or epigrams to be read in the morning, by 
drawing-room tragedies, or caricatures of society. In 
this manner a new literature was produced, the work 
and the portrait of the world which was at once its 
audience and its model, which sprung from it, and 
ended in it 


The art of conversation being then a necessity, 
people set themselves to acquire it. A revolution was 
effected in mind as weU as in manners. As soon as 
circumstances assimie new aspects, thought assumes a 
new form. The Renaissance is ended, the Classic Age 
begins, and the artist makes room for the author. Man 
is returned from his first voyage round the world of 
facts; enthusiasm, the labour of a troubled imagina- 
tion, the tumultuous crowding of new ideas, aU the 
faculties which a first discovery calls into play, have 
become satiated, then depressed. The incentive is 
blunted, because the work is done. The eccentricities, 
the far vistas, the unbridled originality, the all-p(}werful 
flights of genius aimed at the centre of truth through 
the extremes of folly, all the characteristics of grand 
inventive genius have disappeared. The imagination 
is tempered; the mind is disciplined: it retraces its 
steps; it walks its own domain once more with a 

376 THE CLASSIC AGE. book in. 

satisfied curiosity, an acquired experience. Judgment, 
as it were, chews the cud and corrects itself. It finds 
a religion, an art, a philosophy, to reform or to form 
anew. It is no longer the minister of inspired intuition, 
but of a regular process of decomposition. It no longer 
feels or looks for generalities ; it handles and observes 
specialties. It selects and classifies ; it refines and 
regulates. It ceases to be a creator, and becomes a 
discourser. It quits the province of invention and settles 
down into criticism. It enters upon that magnificent 
and confused aggregate of dogmas and forms, in which 
the preceding age has gathered up indiscriminately its 
dreams and discoveries; it draws thence the ideas 
which it modifies and verifies. It arranges them in 
long chains of simple ratiocination, which descend link 
by link to the vulgar apprehension. It expresses them 
in exact terms, which present a graduated series, step by 
step, to the vulgar reasoning power. It marks out in 
the entire field of thought a series of compartments and 
a network of passages, which, excluding all error and 
digression, lead gradually every mind to every object 
It becomes at last clear, convenient, charming. And 
the world lends its aid ; contingent circimistances finish 
the natural revolution; the taste becomes changed 
through a declivity of its own, but also through the 
influence of the court. When conversation becomes 
the chief business of life, it modifies style after its own 
image, and according to its peculiar needs. It repudi- 
ates digression, excessive metaphor, impassioned ex- 
clamations, all loose and overstrained ways. We can- 
not bawl, gesticulate, dream aloud, in a drawing-room ; 
we restrain ourselves; we criticise and keep watch 
over ourselves ; we pass the time in narration and dis- 


cussion ; we stand in need of concise expression, exact 
language, clear and connected reasoning ; otherwise we 
cannot fence or comprehend eeu^h other. Correct style, 
good language, conversation, are self-generated, and 
very quickly perfected ; for refinement is the aim of 
the man of the world : he studies to rendel: everything 
more becoming and more serviceable, his furniture and 
his speech, his periods and his dress. Art and artifice 
are there the distinguishing mark. People pride them- 
selves on being perfect in their mother tongue, never 
to miss the correct sense of any word, to avoid vulgar 
expressions, to string together their antitheses, to de- 
velop their thoughts, to employ rhetoric. Nothing is 
more marked than the contrast of the conversations of 
Shakspeare and Fletcher with those of Wycherley and 
Congreve. In Shakspeare the dialogue resembles an 
assault of arms ; we could imagine men of skill fencing 
with words and gestures as it were in a fencing-school. 
They play the buffoon, sing, think aloud, burst out into 
a laugh, into pims, into fishwomen's talk and into poet's 
talk, into quaint whimsicalities ; they have a taste for 
the ridiculous, the sparkling ; one of them dances while 
he speaks ; they would willingly walk on their hands ; 
there is not one grain of calculation to more than three 
grains of foUy in their heads. In Wycherley, on the 
other hand, the characters are steady ; they reason and 
dispute ; ratiocination is the basis of their style ; they 
are so perfect that the thing is overdone, and we see 
through it all the author stringing his phrases. They 
arrange a tableau, multiply ingenious comparisons, 
balance well-ordered periods. One character delivers 
a satire, another serves up a little essay on morality. 
We might draw from the comedies of the time a 

378 THE CLASSIC AGE. book in. 

volume of sentences; they are charged with literary 
morsels which foreshadow the Spectator} They hunt 
for clever and suitable expressions, they clothe in- 
decent circumstances with decent words; they glide 
swiftly over the fragile ice of decorum, and scratch the 
surface without breaking it I see gentlemen, seated in 
gilt arm-chairs, of quiet wit and studied speech, cool in 
observation, eloquent sceptics, expert in the fashions, 
lovers of elegance, liking fine talk as much horn 
vanity as from taste, who, while conversing between a 
compliment and a reverence, will no more neglect their 
good style than their neat gloves or their hat 


Amongst the best and most agreeable specimens of 
this new refinement, appears Sir William Temple, a 
diplomatist and man of the world, cautious, prudent, and 
polite, gifted with tact in conversation and in business, 
expert in the knowledge of the times, and in the art of 
not compromising himself, adroit in pressing forward 
and in standing aside, who knew how to attract to 
himself the favour and the expectations of England, to 
obtain the eulogies of men of letters, of savants, of 
politicians, of the people, to gain a European reputation, 
to win all the crowns appropriated to science, patriot- 
ism, virtue, genius, without having too much of science, 
patriotism, genius, or \irtue. Such a life is the master- 
piece of that age : fine externals on a foimdation not 
so fine ; this is its abstract His manner as an author 
agrees with his maxims as a politician. His principles 
and style are homogeneous ; a genuine diplomatist, such 

^ Take, for example, Farquhar's Beaux Stratagem^ iL 1. 


as one meets in the drawing-rooms, having probed 
Europe and touched everywhere the bottom of things ; 
tired of everything, specially of enthusiasm, admirable 
in an arm-chair or at a levee, a good story-teller, 
waggish if need were, but in moderation, accomplished 
in the art of maintaining the dignity of his station and 
of enjoying himself. In his retreat at Sheen, after- 
wards at Moor Park, he employs his leisure in writing ; 
and he writes as a man of his rank would speak, very 
well, that is to say, with dignity and facility, particu- 
larly when he writes of the countries he has visited, of 
the incidents he has seen, the noble amusements which 
serve to pass his time.^ He has an income of fifteen 
hundred a year, and a nice sinecure in Ireland. He 
retired from public life during momentous struggles, 
siding neither with the king nor against him, resolved, 
as he teUs us himself, not to set himself against the 
current when the current is irresistible. He Uves 
peacefully in the country with his wife, his sister, 
his secretary, his dependants, receiving the visits of 
strangers, who are anxious to see the negotiator of 
the Triple Alliance, and sometimes of the new King 
William, who unable to obtain his services, comes 
occasionally to seek his counsel He plants and 
gardens, in a fertile soil, in a country the climate of 
which agrees with him, amongst regular flower-beds, by 
the side of a very straight canal, bordered by a straight 
terrace ; and he lauds himself in set terms, and with 
suitable discreetness, for the character he possesses 
and the part he has chosen : — " I have often wondered 
how such sharp and violent invectives come to be made 

^ Consult especially, Observations upon the United Fromnces of the 
Netherlands; Of Gardening. 

380 THE CLASSIC AGE. book in. 

so generally against Epicurus, by the ages that followed 
him, whose admirable wit, felicity of expression, 
excellence of nature, sweetness of conversation, temper- 
ance of life and constancy of death, made him so 
beloved by his friends, admired by his scholars, and 
honoured by the Athenians."^ He does well to defend 
Epicurus, because he has followed his precepts, avoiding 
every great confusion of the mind, and installing him- 
self, like one of Lucretius* gods, in the interspace of 
worlds ; as he says : " Wliere factions were once 
entered and rooted in a state, they thought it madness 
for good men to meddle with public affairs." And 
again : " The true ser\dce of the public is a business of 
so much labour and so much care, that though a good 
and wise man may not refuse it, if he be called to it 
by his prince or his country, and thinks he may be of 
more than vulgar use, yet he will seldom or never seek 
it ; but leaves it commonly to men who, imder the dis- 
guise of public good, pursue their own designs of 
wealth, power, and such bastard honours as usuaUy 
attend them, not that which is the true, and only true, 
reward of virtue."^ Tliis is how he ushers himself in. 
Thus presented to us, he goes on to talk of the garden- 
ing which he practises, and first of the six grand 
Epicureans who have illustrated the doctrine of their 
master — Caesar, Atticus, Lucretius, Horace, Maecenas, 
Virgil ; then of the various sorts of gardens which have 
a name in the world, from the garden of Eden, and 
the garden of Alcinous, to those of Holland and Italy ; 
and all this at some length, like a man who listens to 
liimself and is listened to by others, who does rather 
profusely the honours of his house and of his wit to 

1 Temple's Works : Of Gardening, iL 190. ' IbicL 184. 


his guests, but does them with grace and dignity, not 
dogmatically nor haughtily, but in varied tones, aptly 
modulating his voice and gestures. He recoimts the 
four kinds of grapes which he has introduced into 
England, and confesses that he has been extmvagant, 
yet does not regret it ; for five years he has not once 
wished to see London. He intersperses technical 
advice with anecdotes ; whereof one relates to Charles 
II., who praised the English climate above all others, 
saying : " He thought that was the best climate, where 
he could be abroad in the air with pleasure, or at least 
without trouble or inconvenience, most days of the 
year, and most hours of the day." Another about 
the Bishop of Munster, who, unable to grow any- 
thing but cherries in his orchard, had collected all 
varieties, and so perfected the trees that he had fruit 
fix)m May to September. The reader feels an inward 
gratification when he hears an eyewitness relate minute 
details of such great men. Our .attention is aroused 
immediately; we in consequence imagine ourselves 
denizens of the court, and smile complacently; no 
matter if the details be slender; they serve passably 
well, they constitute " a half hour with the aristocracy," 
like a lordly way of taking snufiT, or shaking the lace 
of one's ruffles. Such is the interest of courtly con- 
versation ; it can be held about nothing ; the excellence 
of the manner lends this nothing a peculiar charm; 
you hear the sound of the voice, you are amused by the 
half smile, abandon yourself to the fluent stream, forget 
that these are ordinary ideas; you observe the 
narrator, his peculiar breeches, the cane he toys with, 
the be-ribboned shoes, his easy walk over the smooth 
gravel of his garden paths between the faultless hedges ; 

382 THE CLASSIC AGE. book in. 

the ear, the mind even is charmed, captivated by the 
appropriateness of his diction, by the abundance of his 
ornate periods, by the dignity and fuhiess of a style 
which is involimtarily regular, which, at first artificial, 
like good breeding, ends, like true good breeding, by 
being changed into a real necessity and a natural talent 
Unfortimately, this talent occasionally leads to 
blimders ; when a man speaks weU about everything, he 
thinks he has a right to speak of everything. He plays 
the philosopher, the critic, even the man of learning; 
and indeed becomes so actually, at least with the ladies. 
Such a man writes, like Temple, Essays on the Nature 
of Government, on Heroic Virtue} on Poetry] that is, 
little treatises on society, on the beautiful, on the philo- 
sophy of history. He is the Locke, the Herder, the 
Bentley of the drawing-room, and nothing else. Now 
and then, doubtless, his mother wit leads him to fair 
original judgments. Temple was the first to discover 
a Pindaric glow in the old chant of Eagnar Lodbrog, 
and to place Don Quixote in the first rank of modem 
fictions ; moreover, when he handles a subject within 
his range, like the causes of the poWer and decline of 
the Turks, his reasoning is admirable. But otherwise, 
he is simply a tyro ; nay, in him the pedant crops out, 
and the worst of pedants, who, being ignorant, wishes to 
seem wise, who quotes the history of every land, 
hauling in Jupiter, Saturn, Osiris, Fo-hi, Confucius, 
Manco-Capac, Mahomet, and discourses on all these 
obscure and unknown civilisations, as if he had labori- 
ously studied them, at the foimtain head and not at 

^ Compare this essay with that of Carlyle, on Heroes and Hero- 
Warship ; tlie title and subject are similar ; it is curious to note the 
difference of the two centuries. 


second hand, through the extracts of his secretary, or 
the books of others. One day he came to grief ; having 
plunged into a Kterary dispute, and claimed superiority 
for the ancients over the moderns, he imagined himself 
a Hellenist, an antiquarian, related the voyages of Pytha- 
goras, the education of Orpheus, and remarked that the 
Greek sages " were commonly excellent poets, and great 
physicians : they were so learned in natural philosophy, 
that they foretold not only eclipses in the heavens, but 
earthquakes at land and storms at sea, great droughts and 
great plagues, much plenty or much scarcity of certain 
sorts of fruits or grain; not to mention the magical 
powers attributed to several of them, to aUay storms, to 
raise gales, to appease commotions of people, to make 
plagues cease." ^ Admirable faculties, which we no 
longer possess. Again he regretted the decay of music, 
" by which men and beasts, fishes, fowls, and serpents, 
were so frequently enchapted, and their very natures 
changed ; by which the passions of men were raised to 
the greatest height and violence, and then as suddenly 
appeased, so as they might be justly said to be turned 
into lions or lambs, into wolves or into harts, by the 
powers and charms of this admirable art." ^ He wished 
to enumerate the greatest modem writers, and forgot to 
mention in his catalogue, " amongst the Italians, Dante, 
Petrarch, Ariosto, and Tasso; in his list of French, 
Pascal, Bossuet, Moli^re, Comeille, Eacine, and Boileau ; 
in his list of Spaniards, Lope and Calderon ; and in his 
list of English, Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, and 
Milton ; " ^ though, by way of compensation, he inserted 

^ Temple's Works, ii. : An Essay upon the Ancient and Modem 
Learning, 155. ' Ibid. 166. 

' Macaulay's Works, vi. 819 : Essay on Sir William Temple, 

38i THE CLASSIC AGE. book m. 

the names of Paolo Sarpi, Guevara, Sir Philip Sidney, 
Selden, Voiture, and Buasy-Kabutin, " author of the His- 
toire avwureuse dea Gaulcs." To cap all, he declared the 
fables of JEaop, which are a dull Byzautiae compilation, 
and the letters of Phalaria, a wretched sophistical forgery, 
to be admirable and authentic : — " It may perhaps be 
further afiirmed, in favour of the ancients, that the oldest 
books we have are stiU in their kind the best The two 
most ancient that I know of in prose, among those we call 
profane authors, are .^op's Fab/ea and Phalaris' Epistles, 
both living near the same time, which was that of Cyrus 
and Pythagoras. As the first has been ^reed by all 
ages since for the greatest master in his kind, and all 
others of that sort have been but imitations of his ori- 
ginal; so I think the Epistles of Phalaris to have more 
grace, more spirit, mora force of wit and genius, tliaa 
any others I have ever seen, either ancient or modern." 
And then, in order to commit himself beyond remedy, 
he gravely remarked : " I know several learned men (or 
that usually pass for such, under the name of critics) 
have not esteemed them genuine, and Politian with 
some others have attrilmted them to Lucian ; but I 
think he must Lave little skill In painting that cannot 
find out this to be an original : such diversity of passions, 
upon such variety of actions and passages of life and 
government, such freedom of thought, such boldness of 
expression, such Iwunty to his friends, such scorn of 
his enemies, such honour of learned men, such esteem 
of good, such knowledge of life, such contempt of death, 
with such fierceness of nature and cruelty of revenge, 
could never be represented but by him that possessed 
them; and I esteem Lucian to have been no more 
capable of writing than of acting what Phalaris did. 


In all one writ, you find the scholar or the sophist ; and 
in all the other, the tyrant and the commander." ^ 

Fine rhetoric truly ; it is sad that a passage so aptly 
turned should cover so many stupidities. All this 
appeared very triumphant ; and the universal applause 
with which this fine oratorical bombast was greeted de- 
monstrates the taste and the culture, the hoUowness and 
the politeness, of the elegant world of which Temple was 
the marvel, and which, like Temple, loved only the 
varnish of truth. 


Such were the ornate and polished manners which 
gradually pierce through debauchery and assimie the as- 
cendant. Gradually the current grows clearer, and 
marks out its course, like a stream, which forcibly 
entering a new bed, moves with difficulty at first through 
a heap of mud, then pushes forward its stiU murky 
waters, which are purified little by little. These de- 
bauchees try to be men of the world, and sometimes 
succeed in it. Wycherley writes well, very clearly, 
without the least trace of euphuism, almost in the 
French manner. He makes Dapperwit say of Lucy, in 
maasured phrase, " She is beautiful without afifectation, 
amorous without impertinence, . . . frolic without rude- 
ness."^ When he wishes it he is ingenious, and his 
gentlemen exchange happy comparisons. " Mistresses," 
says one, " are like books : if you pore upon them too 
much, they doze you, and make you unfit for company ; 
but if used discreetly, you are the fitter for conversation 
by 'euL" " Yes," says another, " a mistress should be 

^ An Essay upon the Ancient and Modem Learning, 173. 

' Love in a Wood, iiL 2. 
VOL. n. 2 C 

386 THE CLASSIC AGE. book ra. 

like a little country retreat near the town ; not to dwell 
in constantly, but only for a night and away, to taste the 
town the better when a man returns." ^ These folk have 
style, even out of place, often not in accordance with the 
situation or condition of the persons. A shoemaker in 
one of Etherege*8 plays says : " There is never a man in 
the town lives more like a gentleman with his wife than 
I do. I never mind her motions ; she never inquires 
into mine. We speak to one another civilly, hate one 
another heartily." There is perfect art in this little 
speech ; everything is complete, even to the symmetrical 
antithesis of words, ideas, sounds : what a fine talker 
is this same satirical shoemaker ! After a satire, a 
madrigal. In one place a certain character exclaims, 
in the very middle of a dialogue, and .in sober prose, 
" Pretty pouting lips, with a little moisture hanging on 
them, that look like the Provence rose fresh on the bush, 
ere the morning sim has quite drawn up the dew." 
Is not this the graceful gallantry of the court? 
Rochester himself sometimes might furnish a parallel 
Two or three of his songs are still to be found in the 
expui-gated books of extracts in use amongst modest 
young girls. It matters nothing that such men are 
really scamps ; they must be every moment using com- 
pliments and salutations: before women whom they 
wish to seduce they are compelled to warble tender 
words and insipidities : they acknowledge but one check, 
the necessity to appear well-bred ; yet this check suffices 
to restrain them. Kochester is correct even in the 
midst of his filth ; if he talks lewdly, it is in the able 
and exact manner of Boileau. All these roisterers aim 
at being wits and men of the world. Sir Charles Sedley 

1 The Country Wife, I 1. 


ruins and pollutes himself, but Charles II. calls him 
" the viceroy of Apollo." Buckingham extols " the 
magic of his style." He is the most charming, the 
most sought-after of talkers ; he makes puns and verses, 
always agreeable, sometimes refined ; he handles dex- 
terously the pretty jargon of m)rthology ; he insinuates 
into his airy, flowing verses all the dainty and some- 
what affected prettinesses of the drawing-room. He 
sings thus to Chloris : 

" My passion with your beauty grew, 
While Cupid at my heart, 
Still as his mother favour'd you, 
Threw a new flaming dart." 

And then sums up : 

" Each gloried in their wanton part : 
To make a lover, he 
Employed the utmost of his art ; 
To make a beauty, she." ^ 

There is no love whatever in these pretty things; 
they are received as they are presented, with a smile ; 
they form part of the conventional language, the polite 
attentions due from gentlemen to ladies. I suppose 
they would send them in the morning with a nosegay, 
or a box of preserved fruits. Roscommon indites some 
verses on a dead lapdog, on a young lady's cold ; this 
naughty cold prevents her singing — cursed be the 
winter! And hereupon he takes the winter to task, 
abuses it at length. Here you have the literary amuse- 
ments of the worldling. They first treat love, then 

^ Sir Charles Sedley's Works, ed. Briscoe, 1778, 2 vols. : The Mul- 
berry OartUn, il 

388 THE CLASSIC A6K book m. 

danger, most airily and gailj. On the eye of a naval 
contest, Dorset, at sea, amidst the pitching of his vessel, 
addresses a celebrated song to the ladies. There is 
nothing weighty in it, either sentiment or wit ; people 
hum the couplets as they pass ; they emit a gleam of 
gaiety ; the next moment they are forgotten. Dorset 
at sea writes to the ladies, on the night before an 
engagement : 

" Let's hear of no iDconstancj, 
We hare too much of that at sea." 

And again: 

*^ Should foggy Opdam chance to know 

Our sad and dismal stoiy, 
The Dutch would scorn so weak a foe, 

And quit their fort at Croree. 
For what resistance can they find 
From men whoVe left their hearts behind ? ** 

Then come jests too much in the English style : 

" Then if we write not by each post, 
Think not we are unkind ; . . . 
Our tears we'll send a speedier way ; 
The tide shall bring them twice a day." 

Such tears can hardly flow from sorrow; the lady 
regards them as the lover sheds them, good-naturedly. 
She is " at a play " (he thinks so, and tells her so) : 

" Whilst you, regardless of our woe, 
Sit careless at a play, 
Perhaps permit some happier man 
To kiss your hand, or flirt your fiuL* ^ 

^ FForks of the Earls o/EoehetUr, JBotoommon, amd Domi^ 2 Tok., 
1781, iL 54. 


Dorset hardly troubles himself about it, plays with 
poetry without excess or assiduity, just as it flows, 
writing to-day a verse against Dorinda, to-morrow a 
satire against Mr. Howard, always easUy and without 
study, like a true gentleman. He is an earl, lord-chamber- 
lain, and rich ; he pensions and patronises poets as he 
would flirts — to amuse himself, without binding himself. 
The Duke of Buckingham does the same, and also the 
contrary; caresses one poet, parodies another; is flat- 
tered, mocked, and ends by having his portrait taken 
by Dryden — a chtf d!(xuvre, but not flattering. We 
have seen such pastimes and such bickerings in France ; 
we find here the same manners and the same literature, 
because we find here also the same society and the 
same spirit 

Among these poets, and in the front rank, is Edmund 
Waller, who lived and wrote in this manner to his 
eighty-second year : a man of wit and fashion, well- 
bred, familiar from his youth with great people, endued 
with tact and foresight, quick at repartee, not easy to put 
out of countenance, but selfish, with hardly any feelings, 
having changed sides more than once, and bearing very 
wdl L M.U of hi, >^.»^^ ; i. Short, f goS 
model of the worldling and the courtier. It was he 
who, having once praised Cromwell, and afterwards 
Charles II., but the latter more feebly than the former, 
said by way of excuse : " Poets, your Majesty, succeed 
better in fiction than in truth." In this kind of exist- 
ence, three-quarters of the poetry is written for the 
occasion; it is the small change of conversation or 
flattery; it resembles the little events or the little 
sentiments from which it sprang. One piece is written 
" Of Tea," another on the queen's portrait ; it is necessary 

Sft Z3S T.^ri^^iT HrH: 

^tv^ i*iL aiTu'inr ic xm^^:^ jii- jjnctinftt ami zTXinit ; 

fomnr-t -^un^^L i 3iL=& 3*i^Hir J^ ^msML n: lis 3*»rag 

-L irritr iimirr in :ii«ar'* aft "^rSEsts "U ^att C-imxCKS rf 
.;uTihit? tu iRT naming: rjniaiitaiL'rsr ^ iLj Liiri of 

y iniiiinii»-T";intL ol "int fnirn it ii» vzh^ a rwcr 

la "Lilt "Tziit . mii jiif ^iitfcrr 2f mlr & ^niien. conT^rs*- 
7^.11. — I uttsm 'liiH iturnscaojiL "^ni&m. ^:«s» -;3i as & faill, 
▼iiaL ;:#t*.i:iti «c«!3L£ iir zh^t skc :c gCfftLV^'j;, Efting a 
iiiik -.if :nf» * tt-ji, nc Tsr-.aczBr x!:t7iz2 4 i>:-Te GaIUdot 
fu .uif •in ifijef 7uk!if ii£K. it« ij im^z 5* i.\ and ir^e may 

ftftLrr. WtZctr fudiii on fiizrvtjtie Skruiiaisa had a fine 
fitrwrr . or an ksi^ f->r uh^ stice <£ ^ood mannas: 
ihii 'whi'-.L Li zn>:t§c eTi^i^eciu hi his hcikdtf poems is, that 
lif: i^zL* ax a i/jirin:^ scxLe azisi c^i^xi riivmesw He is 
:ktf*:fXf:(i, he eia;2g»rra:es, he strains after wit, he is* 
aliraysj an autLor. X-jt venturing to address Saeharissa 
hnr^U, he arl'iresses Mrsw Braoghton, her attendant, 
" h« felJow-5er\'ant : " 

*' 8^;, in those nations which the Son adore. 
Some modest Persian, or some ireak-ered Moor, 
No higher dares advance his dazzled sight 
Than to some gilded cloud, which near the light 
Of their ascending god adorns the east, 
And, graced with his beam, outshines the rest." ^ 

* The English Poeti, ed. A. duOmers, 21 Tola., 1810 ; Waller, 
vol Till 44. 



A fine comparison ! That is a well-made courtesy ; I 
hope Sacharissa responds with one equally correct. His 
despairs bear the same flavour ; he pierces the groves of 
Penshurst with his cries, "reports his flame to the 
beeches," and the weU-bred beeches " bow their heads, 
as if they felt the same."^ It is probable that, in these 
mournful walks, his greatest care was lest he should 
wet the soles of his high-heeled shoes. These transports 
of love bring in the classical machinery, Apollo and the 
Muses. Apollo is annoyed that one of his servants is 
ill-treated, and bids him depart ; and he departs, telling 
Sacharissa that she is harder than an oak, and that she 
was certainly produced from a rock.^ 

There is one genuine reality in all this — sensuality ; 
not ardent, but light and gay. There is a certain piece, 
" The Fall," which an abb^ of the court of Louis XV. 
might have written : 

" Then blush not, Fair ! or on him frown, . . . 
How could the youth, alas ! but bend 
When his whole HeaVn upon him lean'd ; 

1 Tht English Poets, WaUer, vui. 44. 

' ** While in this park I sing, the list'ning deer 
Attend my passion, and forget to fear ; 
When to the beeches I report my flame, 
They bow their heads, as if they felt the same. 
To gods appealing, when I reach their bow'rs 
With loud complaints, they answer me in showers. 
To thee a wild and cruel soul is giv'n, 
More deaf than trees, and prouder than the heay*n ! 

. . . The rock. 
That cloven rock, produc'd thee. . . . 
This last complaint th' indulgent ears did pierce • 

Of just Apollo, president of verse ; 
Highly concerned that the Miise should bring 
Damage to one whom he had taught to sing." — Und, p. 44-5. 

392 THE CLASSIC AGE. book iu. 

If aught by hhn amiss were done, 
'Twas that he let you rise so soon.'' ^ 

Other pieces smack of their surroundings, and are not 
so polished : 

*' Amoret ! as sweet as good, 
As the most delicious food, 
Which but tasted does impart 
Life and gladness to the heart." ^ 

I should not be pleased, were I a woman, to be compared 
to a beef-steak, though that be appetising ; nor should 
I like any more to find myself, like Sachanssa, placed 
on a level with good wine, which flies to the head : 

** Sacharissa's beauty's wine, 
Which to madness doth incline ; 
Such a liquor as no brain 
That is mortal can sustain." ^ 

This is too much honour for port wine and meat The 
English back-ground crops up here and elsewhere ; for 
example, the beautiful Sacharissa, having ceased to be 
beautiful, asked Waller if he would again write verses 
for her: he answered, "Yes, madame, when you are 
once more as young and as handsome as you were," 
Here is something to shock a Frenchman. Neverthe- 
less Waller is usually amiable ; a sort of brilliant light 
floats like a halo roimd his verses ; he is always el^ant, 
often graceful. His gracefulness is like the perfume 
exhaled from the world; fresh toilettes, ornamented 
drawing-rooms, the abundance and the pursuit of all 
those refined and delicate comforts give to the mind a 
sort of sweetness which is breathed forth in obliging 

1 English Poets, Waller, viil 82. « Ibid, 45. » Ibid, 45. 


compliments and smiles. Waller has many of these 
compliments and smiles, and those most flattering, apro^ 
pos of a bud, a girdle, a rose. Such bouquets become 
his hands and his art He pays an excellent compli- 
ment " To young Lady Lucy Sidney " on her age. And 
what could be more attractive for a frequenter of draw- 
ing-rooms, than this bud of still unopened youth, but 
which blushes already, and is on the point of expanding ? 

" Yet, fairest blossom ! do not slight 
That age which you may know so soon. 
The rosy mom resigns her light 
And milder glory to the noon." ^ 

All his verses flow with a continuous harmony, clearness, 
facility, though his voice is never raised, or out of tune, 
or rough, nor loses its true accent, except by the world- 
ling's affectation, which regularly changes all tones in 
order to soften them. His poetry resembles one of those 
pretty, affected, bedizened women, busy in inclining their 
head on one side, and murmuring with a soft voice 
commonplace things which they can hardly be said to 
think, yet agreeable in their be-ribboned dress, and who 
would please altogether if they did not dream of always 

It is not that these men cannot handle grave 
subjects ; but they handle them in their own fashion, 
without gravity or depth. What the courtier most 
lacks is the genuine sentiment of a true and original 
idea. That which interests him most is the correct- 
ness of the adornment, and the perfection of external 
form. They care little for the matter itself, much for the 
outward shape. In fact, it is form which they take for 

» English Poets, WaUer, viiL 45. 

394 THE CLASSIC AGK book ul 

their subject in nearly all their serious poetry ; they 
are critics, they lay down precepts, they compose Arts of 
Poetry. Denham in his " Preface, to the Destrttctian of 
Tror/" lays down rules for translating, whilst Eoscom- 
mon teaches in a complete poem, an Ussay on translated 
Verse, the art of translating poetry welL The Duke 
of Buckinghamshire versified an JSssay on Poetry and an 
£ssay on Satire. Dryden is in the first rank of these 
pedagogues. Like Dryden again, they turn translators, 
amplifiers. Eoscommon translated the Ars Poetica of 
Horace ; Waller the first act of Pompie, a tragedy by 
Comeille; Denham some fragments of Homer and Virgil, 
and two poems, one of Prudence and another of Justice. 
Bochester composed a satire against Mankind, in the 
style of Boileau, and also an epistle upon Nothing ; the 
amorous Waller wrote a didactic poem on The Fear of 
God, and another in six cantos on Divine Lave. These 
are exercises of style. They take a theological thesis, 
a commonplace subject of philosophy, a poetic maxim, 
and develop it in jointed prose, furnished with rhymes ; 
invent nothing, feel little, and only aim at expressing 
good arguments in classical metaphors, in noble terms, 
after a conventional model. Most of their verses con- 
sist of two nouns, furnished with epithets, and connected 
by a verb, like college Latin verses. The epithet is 
good : they had to hunt through the Gradus for it, or, as 
Boileau wills it, they had to carry the line unfinished 
in their heads, and had to think about it an hour in the 
open air, until at last, at the comer of a wood, they 
found the right word which they could not hit upon 
before. I yawn, but applaud. After so much trouble 
a generation ends by forming the sustained style which 
is necessary to support, make public, and demonstrate 


grand things. MeanwhUe, with their omate, official 
diction, and their borrowed thought they are like formal 
chamberlains, in embroidered coats present at a royal 
marriage or an imperial baptism, empty of head, grave 
in manner, admirable for dignity and bearing, with the 
punctilio and the ideas of a dummy. 


One of them only (Dryden always excepted) showed 
talent. Sir John Denham, Charles the First's secretary. 
He was employed in public affairs, and after a dissolute 
youth, turned to serious habits; and leaving behind 
him satiric verse and party broad -jokes, attained in 
riper years a lofty oratorical style. His best poem, 
Coopei^s Hill, is the description of a hill and its sur- 
roundings, blended with the historical ideas which the 
sight recalls, and the moral reflections which its 
appearance naturally suggests. All these subjects are 
in accordance with the nobility and the limitation of 
the classical spirit, and display his vigour without be- 
traying his weaknesses; the poet could show off his whole 
talent without forcing it. His fine language exhibits 
aU its beauty, because it is sincere. We find pleasure 
in following the regular progress of those copious 
phrases in which his ideas, opposed or combined, attain 
for the first time their definite place and full clear- 
ness, where symmetry only brings out the argument 
more clearly, expansion only completes thought, anti- 
thesis and repetition do not induce trifling and affecta- 
tion, where the music of verse, adding the breadth of 
sound to the fulness of sense, conducts the chain of 
ideas, without effort or disorder, by an appropriate 
measure to a becoming order and movement. Gratifi- 

396 THE CLASSIC AGE. book m. 

cation is united with solidity ; the author of " Cooper's 
Hill," knows how to please as well as to impress. His 
poem is like a king's park, dignified and level with- 
out doubt, but arranged to please the eye, and foil 
of choice prospects. It leads us by easy digressions 
across a multitude of varied thoughts. It shows us 
here a mountain, yonder a memorial of the nymphs, a 
classic memorial, like a portico filled with statues, further 
on a broad stream, and by its side the ruins of an 
abbey ; each page of the poem is like a distinct alley, 
with its distinct perspective. Further on, our thoughts 
are turned to the superstitions of the ignorant middle- 
ages, and to the excesses of the recent revolution ; then 
comes the picture of a royal himt ; we see the trem- 
bling stag make his retreat to some dark covert : 

^* He calls to mind his strength, and then his speed, 
His winged heels, and then his armed head ; 
With these t' avoid, with that his fate to meet ; 
But fear prevails, and bids him trust his feet. 
So fast he flies, that his reviewing eye 
Has lost the chasers, and his ear the cry." ^ 

These are the worthy spectacles and the studied 
diversity of the groimds of a nobleman. Every object, 
moreover, receives here, as in a king's palace, all the 
adornment which can be given to it ; el^ant epithets 
are introduced to embellish a feeble substantive ; the 
decorations of art transform the commonplace of nature : 
vessels are " floating towers ; " the Thames is " the most 
loved of all the Ocean's sons ; " the airy moimtain hides 
its proud head among the clouds, whilst a shady mantle 
clothes its sides. Among different kinds of ideas, there 

1 English PoeU, vii. 237. 


is one kingly, full of stately and magnificent ceremonies 
of self-contained and studied gestures, of correct yet 
commanding figures, uniform and imposing like the 
appointments of a palace; hence the classic writers, 
and Denham amongst them, draw all their poetic tints. 
From this every object and event takes its colouring, 
because constrained to come into contact with it Here 
the object and events are compelled to traverse other 
things. Denham is not a mere courtier, he is an 
Englishman; that is, preoccupied by moral emotions.^ 
He often quits his landscape to enter into some 
grave reflection; politics, religion, disturb the enjoy- 
ment of his eyes ; in reference to a hill or a forest, 
he meditates upon man; externals lead him inward; 
impressions of the senses to contemplations of the souL 
The men of this race are by nature and custom esoteric. 
When he sees the Thames throw itself iuto the sea, he 
compares it with " mortal life hasting to meet eternity." 
The " lofty forehead " of a moimtain, beaten by storms, 
reminds him of " the common fate of all that's high or 
great" The course of the river suggests to him ideas 
of inner reformation : 

" could I flow like thee ! and make thy stream 
My great example, aa it is my theme ! 
Though deep, yet clear, though gentle yet not dull ; 
Strong without rage, without overflowing, fulL 

But his proud head the airy mountain hides 
Among the clouds ; his shoulders and his sides 
A shady mantle clothes ; his curled brows 
Frown on the gentle stream, which calmly flows ; 
While winds and storms his lofty forehead beat, 
The common fate of all that's high or great." ^ 

^ English Poets, viL 236-7. 

398 THE CLASSIC AGE. book m. 

There is in the English mind an indestructible store of 
moral instincts, and grand melancholy; and it is the 
greatest confirmation of this, that we can discover such 
a stock at the court of Charles II. 

These are, however, but rare openings, and as it 
were croppings up of the original rock. The habits of the 
worldling are as a thick layer which cover it throughout. 
Manners, conversation, style, the stage, taste, aU is 
French, or tries to be ; they imitate France as well as 
they are able, and go there to mould themselves. 
Many cavaliers went there, driven away by CromweU. 
Denham, WaUer, Eoscommon, and Eochester resided 
there ; the Duchess of Newcastle, a poetess of the time, 
was married at Paris ; the Duke of Buckinghamshire 
served for a short time under Turenne ; Wycherley was 
sent to France by his father, who wished to rescue him 
from the contagion of Puritan opinions ; Vanbrugh, one 
of the best comic playwrights, went thither to contract 
a polish. The two courts were allied almost always in 
fact, and always at heart, by a community of interests, 
and of religious and monarchical ideas. Charles II. 
accepted from Louis XIV. a pension, a mistress, counsels, 
and examples ; the nobility followed their prince, and 
France was the model of the English court. Her 
literature and manners, the finest of the classic age, led 
the fashion. We perceive in English writings that 
French authors are their masters, and that they were 
in the hands of all well-educated people. They con- 
sulted Bossuet, translated Comeille, imitated Molifere, 
respected Boileau. It went so far, that the greatest 
gallants of them tried to be altogether French, to mix 
some scraps of French in every phrase. " It is as ill- 
breeding now to speak good English," says Wycherley, 


" as to write good English, good sense, or a good hand." 
These Frencliified coxcombs ^ are compliment-mongers, 
always powdered, perfumed, "eminent for being hien 
ganUsr They affect delicacy, they are fastidious ; they 
find Englishmen coarse, gloomy, stiff; they try to be 
giddy and thoughtless ; they giggle and prate at random, 
placing the reputation of man in the perfection of his 
wig and his bows. The theatre, which ridicules these 
imitators, is an imitator after their fashion. French 
comedy, like French politeness, becomes their model. 
They copy both, altering without equalling them ; for 
monarchical and classic France is amongst all nations, 
the best fitted from its instincts and institutions for the 
modes of worldly life, and the works of an oratorical 
mind. England follows it in this course, being carried 
away by the universal current of the age, but at a 
distance, and drawn aside by its national peculiarities. 
It is this common direction and this particular deviation 
which the society and its poetry have proclaimed, and 
which the stage and its characters will display. 


Four principal writers established this comedy — Wy- 
cherley, Congreve, Vanbrugh, Farquhar : ^ the first gross, 
and in the pristine irruption of vice ; the others more 
sedate, possessing niore a taste for urbanity than debauch- 
ery ; yet all men of the world, and priding themselves 
on their good breeding, on passing their days at court 
or in fine company, on having the tastes and bearing of 
gentlemen. " I am not a literary man," said Congreve 

^ Etherege's Sir Fopling Flutter; Wycherley's The Gentleman 
Dandng-masterf i. 2. 
• From 1672 to 1726. 

400 THE CLASSIC AGK book ra. 

to Voltaire, "I am a gentleman." In fact, as Pope 
said, he lived more like a man of quality than a man 
of letters, was noted for his successes with the fair, and 
passed his latter years in the house of the Duchess of 
Marlborough. I have said that Wycherley, under 
Charles II., was one of the most fashionable courtiers. 
He served in the army for some time, as did also 
Vanbrugh and Farquhar ; nothing is more gallant than 
the name of Captain which they employed, the military 
stories they brought back, and the feather they stuck 
in their hats. They all wrote comedies on the same 
worldly and classical model, made up of probable 
incidents such as we observe around us every day, of 
well-bred characters such as we commonly meet in a 
drawing-room, correct and elegant conversations such 
as well-bred men can carry on. Tliis theatre, wanting 
in poetry, fancy, and adventures, imitative and discursive, 
was formed at the same time as that of Moli^re, by the 
same causes, and on his model, so that in order to 
comprehend it we must compare it with that of Moliire. 
" Molifere belongs to no nation," said a great English 
actor (Kemble) ; " one day the god of comedy, wishing 
to write, became a man, and happened to fall into 
France." I accept this saying ; but in becoming man 
he found himself, at the same time, a man of the 
seventeenth century and a Frenchman, and that is how 
he was the god of comedy. "To amuse respectable 
people," said Molifere, "what a strange task!" Only 
the French art of the seventeenth century could suc- 
ceed in that ; for it consists in leading by an agreeable 
path to general notions; and the taste for these 
notions, as well as the custom of treading this path, is 
the peculiar mark of respectable people. Moli^re, like 


Racine, expands and creates. Open any one of his plays 
that comes to hand, and the first scene in it, chosen at 
random; after three replies you are carried away, or 
rather led away. The second continues the first, the 
third carries out the second, the fourth completes all ; 
a current is created which bears us on, which bears us 
away, which does not release us until it is exhausted. 
There is no check, no digression, no episodes to distract 
our attention. To prevent the lapses of an absent 
mind, a secondary character intervenes, a lackey, a 
lad/s-maid, a wife, who, couplet by couplet, repeat in 
a different fashion the reply of the principal character, 
and by means of symmetry and contrast keep us in the 
path laid down. Arrived at the end, a second current 
seizes us and acts like the first It is composed like 
the other, and with reference to the other. It throws it 
out by contrast, or strengthens it by resemblance. 
Here the valets repeat the dispute, then the recon- 
ciliation of their masters. In one place, Alceste, 
drawn in one direction through three pages by anger, 
is drawn in a contrary direction, and through three pages, 
by love. Further on, tradesmen, professors, relatives, 
domestics, relieve each other scene after scene, in order 
to bring out in clearer light the pretentiousness and gul- 
libility of M. Jourdain. Every scene, every act, brings 
out in greater relief, completes, or prepares another. 
Everything is united, and everything is simple ; the 
action progresses, and progresses only to carry on the 
idea ; there is no complication, no incidents. One comic 
event suffices for the story. A dozen conversations 
make up the play of the Misanthrope. The same 
situation, five or six times renewed, is the whole oiVEcoU 
des Femmes. These pieces are made out of nothing. 
VOL. IL 2d 

402 THE CLASSIC AGR book ra. 

They have no need of incidents, they find ample space 
in the compass of one room and one day, without 
surprises, without decoration, with an arras and four 
arm-chairs. This paucity of matter throws out the 
ideas more clearly and quickly; in fact, their whole 
aim is to bring those ideas prominently forward ; the 
simplicity of the subject, the progress of the action, the 
linking together of the scenes, — to this everything tends. 
At every step clearness increases, the impression is 
deepened, vice stands out : ridicule is piled up, imtil, 
before so many apt and united appeals, laughter forces 
its way and breaks forth. And this laughter is not a 
mere outburst of physical amusement ; it is the judg- 
ment which incites it The writer is a philosopher, 
who brings us into contact with a universal truth by 
a particular example. We understand through him, as 
through La Bruy^re or Nicole, the force of prejudice, 
the obstinacy of conventionality, the blindness of lova 
The couplets of his dialogue, like the arguments of 
their treatises, are but the worked out. proof and the 
logical justification of a preconceived conclusion. We 
philosopliise with him on humanity ; we think because 
he has thought. And he has only thought thus in the 
character of a Frenchman, for an audience of French 
men of the world. In him we taste a national plea- 
sure. French refined and systematic intelligence, the 
most exact in seizing on the subordination of ideas, the 
most ready in separating ideas from matter, the most 
fond of clear and tangible ideas, finds in him its 
nourishment and its echo. None who has sought to 
show us mankind, has led us by a straighter and 
easier mode to a more distinct and speaking portrait 
I will add, to a more pleasing portrait^ — and this is the 


main talent of comedy: it consists in keeping back what 
is hateful ; and observe that which is hateful aboimds 
in the world. As soon as you will paint the world 
truly, philosophically, you meet with vice, injustice, and 
everywhere indignation ; amusement flees before anger 
and morality. Consider the basis of Tartnffe; an 
obscene pedant, a red-faced hypocritical wretch, who, 
palming himself off on a decent and refined family, 
tries to drive the son away, marry the daughter, 
corrupt the w^fe, ruin and imprison the father, and 
almost succeeds in it, not by clever plots, but by 
vulgar mummery, and by the coarse audacity of his 
caddish disposition. What could be more repelling? 
"And how is amusement to be drawn from such a 
subject, where Beaumarchais and La Bruyire failed?^ 
Similarly, in the Misanthrope, is not the spectacle of a 
loyally sincere and honest man, very much in love, 
whom his virtue finally overwhelms with ridicule and 
drives from society, a sad sight to see ? Eousseau was 
annoyed that it should produce laughter; and if we 
were to look upon the subject, not in Molifere, but in 
itself, we should find enough to revolt our natural 
generosity. Eecall his other plots; Georges Dandin 
mystified, G(5ronte beaten, Amolphe duped, Harpagon 
plimdered, Sganarelle married, girls seduced, louts 
thrashed, simpletons turned financiers. There are 
sorrows here, and deep ones ; many would rather weep 
than laugh at them. Amolphe, Dandin, Harpagon, 
are almost tragic characters; and when we see them 
in the world instead of the theatre, we are not disposed 
to sarcasm, but to pity. Picture to yourself the 

^ Onuphre, in La Bniy^re's OaraeUres, ch. ziii dc la Mode; 
BegearSj in Beaumarchais la Mhrt Coupable, 

404 THE CLASSIC AOK book hl 

originals from whom Moli^re has taken his doctors. 
Consider this venturesome experimentalist, who, in the 
interest of science, tries a new saw, or inoculates a 
virus ; think of his long nights at the hospital, the wan 
patient carried on a mattress to the operating table, and 
stretching out his leg to the knife ; or again imagLue the 
peasant's bed of straw in the damp cottage, where an 
old dropsical mother lies choking,^ while her children 
grudgingly count up the crowns she has already cost 
them. You quit such scenes deeply moved, filled 
with sympathy for human misery; you discover that 
life, seen near and face to face, is a mass of trivial 
harshnesses and of grievous passions ; you are tempted, 
if you wish to depict it, to enter into the mire of 
sorrows whereon Balzac and Shakspeare have built: 
you see in it no other poetry than that audacious 
reasoning power which from such a confusion abstracts 
the master-forces, or the light of genius which flickers 
over the swarm and the falls of so many polluted and 
wounded wretches. How everything changes under 
the hand of a mercurial Frenchman ! how all this 
human ugliness is blotted out ! how amusing is the 
spectacle which Moli^re has arranged for us ! how we 
ought to thank the great artist for having transformed 
his subject so well ! At last we have a cheerful world, 
on canvas at least ; we could not have it otherwise, but 
this we have. How pleasant it is to forget truth! 
what an art is that which divests us of ourselves! 
what a point of view which converts the contortions of 
suffering into funny grimaces ! Gaiety has come 
upon us, the dearest possession of a Frenchman. The 
soldiers of Villars used to dance that they might forget 

^ Consultations of Sganarelle in the M6decin mcUgrS lui. 


they had no longer any bread. Of all French posses- 
sions, too, it is the best. This gift does not destroy 
thought, but it masks it. In Moli^re, truth is at the 
bottom, but concealed ; he has heard the sobs of human 
tragedy, but he prefers not to re-echo them. It is quite 
enough to feel our woimds smart ; let us not go to the 
theatre to see them again. Philosophy, while it reveals 
them, advises us not to think of them too much. Let 
us enliven our condition with the gaiety of easy conversa- 
tion and light wit, as we would the chamber of sickness. 
Let us cover Tartuflfe, Harpagon, the doctors, with out- 
rageous ridicule: ridicule will make us forget their 
vices ; they will afford us amusement instead of causing 
horror. Let Alceste be grumpy and awkward. It is 
in the first place true, because our more valiant virtues 
are only the outbreaks of a temper out of harmony with 
circumstances; but, in addition, it wiU be amusing. 
His mishaps will cease to make him the martyr of 
justice ; they will only be the consequences of a cross- 
grained character. As to the mystifications of husbands, 
tutors, and fathers, I fancy that we are not to see in 
them a concerted attack on society or morality. We 
are only entertaining ourselves for one evening, nothing 
more. The syringes and thrashings, the masquerades 
and dances, prove that it is a sheer piece of buffoonery. 
Do not be afraid that philosophy wiU perish in a pan- 
tomime ; it is present even in the Mariage ford, even 
in the Malade imaginaire. It is the mark of a French- 
man and a man of the world to clothe everything, even 
that which is serious, in laughter. When he is think- 
ing, he does not always wish to show it. In his most 
violent moments he is still the master of the house, the 
polite host; he conceals from you his thoughts or 

406 THE CLASSIC AOK book iil 

his suffering. Mirabeau^ when in agony, said to one 
of his friends with a smile, " Come, you who take an 
interest in plucky deaths, you shall see mine ! " The 
French talk in this style when they are depicting life ; 
no other nation knows how to philosophise smartly, and 
die with good taste. 

This is the reason why in no other nation comedy, 
while it continues comic, affords a moral ; Molifere is 
the only man who gives us models without getting 
pedantic, without trenching on the tragic, without 
growing solemn. This model is the " respectable man," 
as the phrase was, PhUinte, Ariste, Clitandre, Eraste;^ 
there is no other who can at the same time instruct and 
amuse us. His talent has reflection for its basis, but 
it is cultivated by the world. His character has 
honesty for its basis, but it is in harmony with the 
world. You may imitate him without transgressing 
either reason or duty ; he is neither a coxcomb nor a 
roisterer. You can imitate him without neglecting 
your interests or making yourself ridiculous ; he is 
neither an ignoramus nor unmannerly. He has 
read and understands the jargon of Trissotin and 
Lycidas, but in order to pierce them through and 
through, to beat them with their own arguments, to set 
the gallery in a roar at their expense. He wUl discuss 
even morality and religion, but in a style so natural, 
with proofs so clear, with warmth so genuine, that he 
interests women, and is listened to by men of the world. 
He knows man, and reasons about him, but in such 
brief sentences, such living delineations, such pungent 
humour, that his philosophy is the best of entertain- 
ments. He is faithful to his ruined mistress, his 

^ Amongst womeD, ^liante, Henriette, £lise, Uranie, Elmire. 



calumniated friend, but gracefully, without fuss. All 
his actions, even noble ones, have an easy way about 
them which adorns them; he does nothing without 
pleasantness. His great talent is knowledge of the 
world ; he shows it not only in the trivial circumstances 
of every-day life, but in the most passionate scenes, the 
most embarrassing positions. A noble swordsman 
wants to take Philinte, the "respectable man," as 
his second in a duel; he reflects a moment, excuses 
himself in a score of phrases, and *' without playing the 
Hector," leaves the bystanders convinced that he is no 
coward. Armando insults him, then throws herself in 
his arms ; he politely averts the storm, declines the re- 
conciliation with the most loyal frankness, and without 
employing a single falsehood, leaves the spectators con- 
vinced that he is no boor. When he loves ifeliante,^ 
who prefers Alceste, and whom Alceste may possibly 
marry, he proposes to her with a complete delicacy and 
dignity, without lowering himself, without recrimina- 
tion, without wronging himself or his friend. When 
Oronte reads him a sonnet, he does not assume in the 
fop a nature which he has not, but praises the conven- 
tional verses in conventional language, and is not so 
clumsy as to display a poetical judgment which would 
be out of place. He takes at once his tone from the 
circumstances; he perceives instantly what he must 
say and what be silent about, in what degree and in 
what gradations, what exact expedient will reconcile 
truth and conventional propriety, how far he ought to 
go or where to take his stand, what faint line separates 
decorum from flattery, truth from awkwardness. On 

^ Ck)iDpare the admirable tact and coolness of £liante, Henriette, 
and Elmire. 

408 THE CLASSIC A6K book m. 

this narrow path he proceeds free from embarrassment 
or mistakes, never put out of his way by the shocks or 
changes of circumstance, never allowing the calm smile 
of politeness to quit his lips, never omitting to receive 
with a laugh of good humour the nonsense of his 
neighbour. This cleverness, entirely French, reconciles 
in him fundamental honesty and worldly breeding; 
without it, he would be altogether on the one side or 
the other. In this way comedy finds its hero half-way 
between the rouS and the preacher. 

Such a theatre depicts a race and an aga This 
mixture of solidity and elegance belongs to the seven- 
teenth century, and belongs to France. The world does 
not deprave, it develops Frenchmen ; it polished then 
not only their manners and their homes, but also their 
sentiments and ideas. Conversation provoked thought ; 
it was no mere talk, but an inquiry ; with the exchange 
of news, it called forth the interchange of reflections. 
Theology and philosophy entered into it ; morals, and 
the observation of the heart, formed its daily pabu- 
limi. Science kept up its vitality, and lost only its 
aridity. Pleasantness cloaked reason, but did not 
smother it. Frenchmen never think better than in 
society ; the play of features excites them ; their ready 
ideas flash into lightning, in their shock with the ideas 
of others. The varied current of conversation suits 
their fits and starts; the frequent change of subject 
fosters their invention ; the pungency of piquant 
speeches reduces truth to small but precious coin, suit- 
able to the lightness of their hands. And the heart is 
no more tainted by it than the inteUigenca The French- 
man is of a sober temperament, with little taste for the 
brutishness of the drunkard, for violent joviality, for the 


riot of loose suppers ; he is moreover gentle, obliging, 
always ready to please ; in oitler to set him at ease he 
needs that flow of goodwOl and elegance which polite 
society creates and cherishes. And in accordance there- 
with, he shapes his temperate and amiable inclinations 
into maxims ; it is a point of honour with him to be ser- 
viceable and refined. Such is the gentleman, the product 
of society in a sociable race. It was not so with the 
English. Their ideas do not spring up in chance con- 
versation, but by the concentration of solitary thought ; 
this is the reason why ideas were then wanting. Their 
gentlemanly feelings are not the fruit of sociable in- 
stincts, but of personal reflection ; that is why gentle- 
manly feelings were then at a discoimt. The brutish 
foimdation remained; the outside alone was smooth. 
Manners were gentle, sentiments harsh; speech was 
studied, ideas frivolous. Thought and refinement of soul 
were rare, talent and fluent wit abimdant. There was 
politeness of manner, not of heart ; they had only the 
set rules and the conventionalities of life, its giddiness 
and heedlessness. 


The EngUsh comedy-writers paint these vices, and 
possess them. Their talent and their stage are tainted 
by them. Art and philosophy are absent. The authors 
do not advance upon a general idea, and they do not 
proceed by the most direct method. They put together 
ill, and are embarrassed by materials. Their pieces 
have generally two intermingled plots, manifestly dis- 
tinct,^ combined in order to multiply incidents, and 

^ Dryden boasts of this. With him, we always find a complete 
comedy grossly amalgamated with a complete tragedy. 

410 THE CLASSIC A6K book m. 

because the public demands a multitude of characters 
and facts. A strong current of boisterous action is 
necessary to stir up tiieir dense appreciation ; they do 
as the Eomans did, who packed several Greek plays 
into one. They grew tired of the French simplicity of 
action, because they had not the French refined tasta 
The two series of actions mingle and jostle one with 
another. We cannot see where we are going ; every 
moment we are turned out of our path. The scenes 
are Ol connected ; they change twenty times from place 
to place. When one scene begins to develop itself, a 
deluge of incidents interrupts. An irrelevant dialogue 
drags on between the incidents, suggesting a book with 
the notes introduced promiscuously into the text. There 
is no plan carefully conceived and rigorously carried 
out ; they took, as it were, a plan, and wrote out the 
scenes one after another, pretty much as they came 
into their head. Probability is not well cared for. 
There are poorly arranged disguises, ill simulated folly, 
mock marriages, and attacks by robbers worthy of the 
comic opera. In order to obtain a sequence of ideas 
and probability, we must set out from some general idea. 
The conception of avarice, hypocrisy, the education of 
women, iU-assorted marriages, arranges and binds to- 
gether by its individual power incidents which are to 
reveal it. But in the English comedy we look in 
vain for such a conception. Congreve, Farquhar, 
Vanbrugh, are only men of wit, not thinkers. They 
skim the surface of things, but do not penetrate. They 
play with their characters. They aim at success, at 
amusement. They sketch caricatures, they spin out in 
lively fashion a vain and bantering conversation ; they 
make answers clash with one another, fling forth para- 


doxes ; their nimble fingers manipulate and juggle with 
the incidents in a himdred ingenious and unlooked-for 
ways. They have animation, they aboimd in gesture 
and repartee ; the constant bustle of the stage and its 
lively spirit surroimd them with continual excitement. 
But the pleasure is only skin-deep; we have seen 
nothing of the eternal foundation and the real nature 
of mankind ; we carry no thought away ; we have passed 
an hour, and that is all; the amusement teaches us 
nothing, and serves only to fill up the evenings of 
coquettes and coxcombs. 

Moreover, this pleasure is not real; it has no re- 
semblance to the hearty laughter of Moli^ra In English 
comedy there is always an undercurrent of tartness. 
We have seen this, and more, in Wycherley ; the others, 
though less cruel, joke sourly. Their characters in a 
joke say harsh things to one another ; they amuse 
themselves by hurting each other; a Frenchman is 
pained to hear this interchange of mock politeness ; he 
does not go to blows by way of fun. Their dialogue 
turns naturally to virulent satire ; instead of covering 
vice, it makes it prominent; instead of making it 
ridiculous, it makes it odious : 

" Clarissa, Prithee, tell me how you have passed the night ? . . 

Araminta. Why, I have been studying all the ways my 
brain could produce to plague my husband. 

CI, No wonder indeed you look so fresh this morning, 
after the satisfaction of such pleasing ideas all night.*' ^ 

These women are really wicked, and that too openly. 
Throughout vice is crude, pushed to extremes, served up 
with material adjuncts. Lady Fidget says : " Our virtue 

^ Vanbragh, Confederacy, iL 1. 

412 THE CLASSIC AOK book m. 

is like the statesman's religion, the quaker's word, the 
gamester's oath, and the great man's honour; but to 
cheat those that trust us."^ Or again : " If you'll con- 
sult the widows of this town," says a yoimg lady who 
does not wish to marry again, " the/U tell you, you 
should never take a lease of a house you can hire for a 
quarter's warning." ^ Or again : " My heart cut a caper 
up to my mouth," says a young heir, " when I heard 
my father was shot through the head."* The gentlemen 
collar each other on the stage, treat the ladies roughly 
before spectators, contrive an adultery not far off between 
the wings. Base or ferocious parts abound. There 
are furies like Mrs. Loveit and Lady Touchwood. There 
are swine like parson Bull and the go-between Coupler. 
Lady Touchwood wants to stab her lover on the stage.* 
Coupler, on the stage, uses gestures which recall the 
court of Henry III. of France. Wretches like Fainall 
and Maskwell are unmitigated scoundrels, and their 
hatefulness is not even cloaked by the grotesque. Even 
honest women like Silvia and Mrs. Sullen are plunged 
into the most shocking situations. Nothing shocked the 
English public of those days ; they had no real educa- 
tion, but only its varnish. 

There is a forced connection between the mind of a 
writer, the world which surrounds him, and the char- 
acters which he produces; for it is from this world 
that lie draws the materials out of which he composes 
them. The sentiments which he contemplates in others 

* Wycherley, The Cmintry Wife, v. 4. 

* Vanbrugh, Relapx^ ii. end. • Ihid. 

* She says to Maskwell, her lover : ** You want but leisure to 
invent fresh falsehood, and soothe me to a fond belief of all your 
fictions ; but I will stab the lie that's forming in your heart, and save 
a sin, in pity to your soul" — Congreve, Double Dealer , v. 17. 


and feels himself are graduallj arranged into characters ; 
he can only invent after his given model and his 
acquired experience ; and his characters only manifest 
what he is, or abridge what he has seen. Two features 
are prominent in this world ; they are prominent also on 
this stage. All the successful characters can be reduced 
to two classes — natural beings on the one part, and 
artificial on the other ; the first with the coarseness and 
shamelessness of their primitive inclinations, the second 
with the frivolities and vices of worldly habits : the first 
imcultivated, their simplicity revealing nothing but their 
innate baseness ; the second cultivated, their refinement 
instilling into them nothing but a new corruption. 
And the talent of the writers is suited to the painting 
of these two groups : they possess the grand English 
faculty, which is the knowledge of ex;act detail and 
real sentiments ; they see gestures, surroundings, dresses ; 
they hear the soimds of voices, and they have the 
courage to exhibit them ; they have inherited, very 
little, and at a great distance, and in spite of themselves, 
still they have inherited from Shakspeare ; they mani- 
pulate freely, and without any softening, the coarse 
harsh red colour which alone can bring out the figures 
of their brutes. On the other hand, they have animation 
and a good style ; they can express the thoughtless 
chatter, the frolicsome affectations, the inexhaustible and 
capricious abundance of drawing-room stupidities ; they 
have as much liveliness as the maddest, and at the same 
time they speak as well as the best instructed ; they 
can give the model of witty conversation ; they have 
lightness of touch, brilliancy, and also facility, exactness, 
without which you cannot draw the portrait of a man 

414 THE CLASSIC AGE. book m. 

of the world. They find naturally on their palette the 
strong colours which suit their barbarians^ and the 
pretty tints which suit their exquisites. 


First there is the blockhead, Squire Sullen, a low kind 
of sot, of whom his wife speaks in this fashion : " After 
his man and he had rolled about the room, like sick 
passengers in a storm, he comes floimce into bed, dead 
as a salmon into a fishmonger's basket ; his feet cold 
as ice, his breath hot as a furnace, and his hands and 
his face as greasy as his flannel nightcap. matrimony ! 
He tosses up the clothes with a barbarous swing over 
his shoulders, disorders the whole economy of my bed, 
leaves me half naked, and my whole night's comfort is 
the tuneable serenade of that wakeful nightingale, his 
nose f ^ Sir John Brute says : " What the plague did 
I marry her (his wife) for ? I knew she did not like 
me; if she had, she would have lain with me."* He 
turns his drawing-room into a stable, smokes it foul to 
drive the women away, throws his pipe at their heads, 
drinks, swears, and curses. Coarse words and oaths 
flow through his conversation like filth through a gutter. 
He gets drunk at the tavern, and howls out, "Damn 
morality ! aud damn the watch ! and let the constable 
be married."^ He cries out tliat he is a free-bom 
Englishman ; he wants to go out and break everything. 
He leaves the inn with other besotted scamps, and* at- 
tacks the women in the street He robs a tailor who 
was carrying a doctor's gown, puts it on, thrashes the 
guard. He is seized and taken by the constable ; on 

' Farqnhar, The Beaux Stratagem^ ii 1. 
« Vanbrugh, Prwokcd Wife, y. 6. » Ibid, iii 2. 


the road he breaks out into abuse, and ends by propos- 
ing to him, amid the hiccups and stupid reiterations of 
a drunken man, to go and find out somewhere a bottle and 
a girL He returns home at last, covered with blood and 
mud, growling like a dog, with red swollen eyes, calling 
his wife a slut and a liar. He goes to her, forcibly 
embraces her, and as she turns away, cries, " I see it 
goes damnably against your stomach — and therefore — 
kiss me again. (Kisses and tumbles her.) So, now you 
being as dirty and as nasty as myself, we may go pig 
together."^ He wants to get a cup of cold tea out of 
the closet, kicks open the door, and discovers his wife's 
and niece's gallants. He storms, raves madly with his 
clammy tongue, then suddenly falls asleep. His valet 
comes and takes the insensible burden on his shoulders.^ 
It is the portrait of a mere animal, and I fancy it is 
not a nice one. 

That is the husband ; let us look at the father. Sir 
Tunbelly Climisey, a country gentleman, elegant, if any 
of them were. Tom Fashion knocks at the door of the 
mansion, which looks like "Noah's ark," and where they 
receive people as in a besieged city. A servant appears 
at a window with a blunderbuss in his hand, who is at 
last with great difficidty persuaded that he ought to let 
his master know that somebody wishes to see him. 
" Ralph, go thy weas, and ask Sir Tunbelly if he pleases 
to be waited upon. And dost hear ? call to nurse that 
she riiay lock up Miss Hoyden before the geat's open." * 
Please to observe that in this house they keep a 

* Vanbnigh, Provoked Wife, v. 2. 

' The valet Hasor says to his master : *' Come to your kennel, you 
cnckoldy dronken sot you." — Ibid. 
' Yanbnigh's Selapae, iii. 8. 

416 THE CLASSIC AGE. book m. 

watch over the girls. Sir Tunbelly comes up with his 
people, armed with guns, pitchforks, scythes, and clubs, 
in no amiable mood, and wants to know the name of 
his visitor. " Till I know your name, I shall not ask 
you to come into my house ; and when I know your 
name — 'tis six to four I don't ask you neither."^ He 
is like a watchdog growling and looking at the calves 
of an intruder. But he presently learns that this 
intruder is his future son-in-law; he utters some 
exclamations, and makes his excuses. " Cod's my life ! 
I ask your lordship's pardon ten thousand times. {To 
a servant) Here, run in a-doors quickly. Get a 
Scotch-coal fire in the great parlour ; set all the Turkey- 
work chairs in their places ; get the great brass candle- 
sticks out, and be sure stick the sockets full of laurel. 
Run ! . . . And do you hear, run away to nurse, bid 
her let Miss Hoyden loose again, and if it was not 
shifting-day, let her put on a clean tucker, quick !" ^ The 
pretended son-in-law wants to marry Hoyden straight 
oflF. " Not so soon neither ! that's shooting my girl 
before you bid her stand. . . . Besides, my wench's 
wedding-gown is not come home yet"* The other 
suggests that a speedy marriage will save money. 
Spare money ? says the father, " Udswoons, I'll give my 
wench a wedding dinner, though I go to grass with the 
king of Assyria for*t. . . . Ah! poor girl, she'll be 
scared out of her wits on her wedding-night; for, 
honestly speaking, she does not know a man from a 
woman but by his beard and his breeches." * Fopping- 
ton, the real son-in-law, arrives. Sir Timbelly, taking 
him for an impostor, calls him a dog ; Hoyden proposes 

^ Vanbnigh's Relapse^ iiL 3. * Ibid, 

a Ibid. iu. 6. * Ibid. 


to drag him in the horse-pond; they bind him hand 
and foot, and thrust him into the dog-kennel; Sir 
Tunbelly puts his fist under his nose, and threatens to 
knock his teeth down his throat Afterwards, having 
discovered the impostor, he says, " My lord, will you 
cut his throat? or shall I? . . . Here, give me my 
dog-whip. . . . Here, here, here, let me beat out his 
brains, and that will decide all."i He raves, and 
wants to fall upon Tom Fashion with his fists. Such 
is the coimtry gentleman, of high birth and a farmer, 
boxer and drinker, brawler and beast. There steams 
up from all these scenes a smell of cooking, the noise of 
riot, the odour of a dimghilL 

Like father like child. What a candid creature is 
Miss Hoyden ! She grumbles to herself, " It's well I 
have a husband a-eoming, or, ecod, I'd marry the beaker ; 
I would so ! Nobody can knock at the gate, but pre- 
sently I must be locked up; and here's the yoimg 
greyhound bitch can run loose about the house all the 
day long, she can ; 'tis very well." ^ When the nurse 
tells her her future husband has arrived, she leaps for 
joy, and kisses the old woman. " Lord ! I'll go put 
on my laced smock, though I'm whipped till the blood 
run down my heels fbr't." * Tom comes himself, and 
asks her if she will be his wife. ^ Sir, I never disobey 
my father in anything but eating of green gooseberries." 
But your father wants to wait . * . "a whole week." 
"A week! — ^Why I jshall be an old woman by that 
time." * I cannot : give all her answers. There is 
the spirit of a goat behind her kitchen-talk. She 
marries Tom secretly on the spot, and the chaplain 

' Yanbrogh's JUlapfe, y. 5. * Und, iiL 4. 

» Ihid. * Bid. iv. 1. 

VOL II. 2 E 

418 THE CLASSIC AGE. book in. 

wishes them many children. " Ecod," she says, " with 
all my heart ! the more the merrier, I say ; ha ! nurse !"^ 
But Lord Foppington, her real intended, turns up, and 
Tom makes off. Instantly her plan is formed. She 
bids the nurse and chaplain hold their tongues. " If 
you two will be sure to hold your tongues, and not say 
a word of what's past, I'll e'en marry this lord too." 
" What," says nurse, " two husbands, my dear ? " 
" Why, you had three, good nurse, you may hold your 
tongua" ' She nevertheless takes a dislike to the lord, 
and very soon ; he is not well made, he hardly gives her 
any pocket-money ; she hesitates between the two. " If 
I leave my lord, I must leave my lady too ; and when I 
rattle about the streets in my coach, they'll only say, 
There goes mistress — mistress — mistress what ? Whaf s 
this man's name I have married, nurse ? " " Squire 
Fashion." " Squire Fashion is it ? — ^Well, 'Squire, thaf s 
better than nothing.* . . . Love him ! why do you think 
I love him, nurse ? ecod, I would not care if he were 
hanged, so I were but once married to him ! — ^No — 
that which pleases me, is to think what work I'll make 
when I get to London ; for when I am a wife and a 
lady both, nurse, ecod, I'll flaunt it with the best of 
'em." * But she is cautious all the same. She knows 
that her father has his dog's whip handy, and that he 

^ Vanbrugh's Relapse, iv. 4. The character of the nurse is ezcellent 
Tom Fashion thanks her for the training she has given Hoyden : *' Alas, 
all I can boast of is, I gave her pure good milk, and so your honour 
would have said, an you had seen how the poor thing sucked it. — Eh ! 
God's blessing on the sweet face on*t ! how it used to hang at this poor 
teat, and suck and squeeze, and kick and sprawl it would, till the 
belly on't was so full, it would drop oflf like a leech. " This is good, 
even after Juliet's nurse in Shakspeare. 

» Ibid. iv. 6. » Ibid, V. 6. *Ibid. n. X. 


will give her a good shake. " But, d'ye hear ? " she 
says to the nurse. "Pray take care of one thing: 
when the business comes to break out, be sure you get 
between i^e and my father, for you know his tricks : 
he'U knock me down."^ Here is your true moral 
ascendency. For such a character, there is no other, 
and Sir Tunbelly does well to keep her tied up, and* to 
let her taste a discipline of daily stripes.^ 


Let us accompany this modest character to town, 
and place her with her equals in fine society. All 
these artless ladies do wonders there, both in the way 
of actions and maxims. Wycherley's Country Wife 
gives us the tone. When one of them happens to be 
partly honest,^ she has the manners and the boldness 
of a hussar in petticoats. Others seem bom with the 
souls of courtesans and procuresses. " If I marry my 
lord Aimwell," says Dorinda, " there will be title, place, 
and precedence, the Park, the play, and the drawing- 
room, splendour, equipage, noise, and flambeaux. — Hey, 
my lady Aimwell's servants there ! Lights, lights to 
the stairs ! My lady Aimwell's coach put forward! Stand 
by, make room for her ladyship ! — ^Are not these things 
moving ? " * She is candid, and so are others — Corinna, 
Miss Betty, Belinda, for example. Belinda says to her 
aunt, whose virtue is tottering: "The sooner you 

^ Vanbrugh's Relapse^ v. 5. 

' See also the character of a young stupid blockhead. Squire 
Humphrey. (Vanbrugh's Journey to London). He has only a single 
idea, to be always eating. 

• Wycherley's Hippolita ; Farquhar's Silvia. 

^ Farquhar's Beavx Stratagem, iv, 1. 

420 THE CLASSIC AGE. book m. 

capitulate the better."^ Further on, when she has 
decided to many Heartfree, to save her aunt who is 
compromised, she makes a confession of faith which 
promises well for the future of her new spouse ; "Were't 
not for your affair in the balance, I should go near to 
pick up some odious man of quality yet, and only 
take poor Heartfree for a gallant."^ These young ladies 
are clever, and in all cases apt to follow good instruction. 
Listen to Miss Prue : " Look you here, madam, then, 
what Mr. Tattle has given ma — Look you here, cousin, 
here's a snuff-box : nay. there's snuff in't ;— here. wiU 
you have any? — Oh, good! how sweet it is 1 — ^Mr. Tattle 
is all over sweet ; his peruke is sweet, and his gloves 
are sweet, and his handkerchief is sweet, pure sweet, 
sweeter than roses. — Smell him, mother, madam, I 
mean. — He gave me this ring for a kiss. . . . Smell, 
cousin; he says, he'll give me something that will 
make my smocks smell this way. Is not it pure ? — 
It*s better than lavender, mim. — Fm resolved I won't 
let nurse put any more lavender among my smocks — 
ha, cousin ? " * It is the siUy chatter of a young magpie, 
who flies for the first tima Tattle, alone with her, 
tells her he is going to make love : 

" Miss Prue, Well ; and how will you make love to me I 
come, I long to have you begin. Must I make love too ? yoa 
must tell me how. 

Tattle, You must let me speak, miss, you must not speak 
first ; I must ask you questions, and you must answer. 

Miss P. What, is it like the catechism ?— come then, aak me. 

T. D'ye think you can love me 1 

Miss P. Yes. 

1 Vanbrugh's Provoked Wife, iiL 8. « Ibid, ▼. 2. 

• CoDgreye*8 Love for Lone^ ii 10. 


T, Pooh ! pojc ! you must not say yes already ; I shan^t care 
a farthing for you then in a twinkling. 

Mus P. What must I say then 9 

T. Why, you must say no, or you believe not, or you can't 

Miss P. Why, must I tell a lie then 1 

T, Yes, if you'd be well-bred ; — all well-bred persons lie. — 
Besides, you are a woman, you must never speak what you 
think : your words must contradict your thoughts ; but your 
actions may contradict your words. So, when I ask you, if 
you can love me, you must say no, but you must love me too. 
If I tell you you are handsome, you must deny it, and say I 
flatter you. But you must think yourself more charming than 
I speak you: and like me, for the beauty which I say you 
have, as much as if I had it myself. If I ask you to kiss me, 
you must be angry, but you must not refuse me. . . . 

Miss P. Lord, I swear this is pure ! — I like it better than 
our old-fashioned country way of speaking one's mind; — and 
must not you lie too ? 

T. Hum ! — Yes ; but you must believe I speak truth. 

Miss P. Gemini ! well, I always had a great mind to tell 
lies ; but they frighted me, and said it was a sin. 

T. Well, my pretty creature ; will you make me happy by 
giving me a kiss 1 

Miss P. No, indeed; I'm angry at you« (Runs and kisses 

T, Hold, hold, that's pretty well ; — ^but you should not have 
given it me, but have suffered me to have taken it. 

Miss P. Well, we'll do it again. 

r. With all my heart. Now, then, my little angeL {Kisses 

Miss P. Pish ! 

T. That's right — again, my charmer ! {Kisses again,) 

Miss P. fy I nay, now I can't abide you. 

422 THE CLASSIC AGE. book in. 

T. Admirable ! that was as well as if you had been bom 
and bred in Covent Garden." ^ 

She makes such rapid progress^ that we must stop 
the quotation forthwith. And mark, what is bred in 
the bone will come out in the flesh. All these charm- 
ing characters soon employ the language of kitchen- 
maids. When Ben, the dolt of a sailor, wants to make 
love to Miss Prue, she sends him off with a flea in his 
ear, raves, lets loose a string of cries and coarse expres- 
sions, calls him a " great sea-calf." '* What does father 
mean," he says, " to leave me alone, as soon as I come 
home, with such a dirty dowdy? Sea-calf! I an't 
calf enough to lick your chalked face, you cheese-curd, 
you." Moved by these amenities, she breaks out into 
a rage, weeps, calls him a "stinking tar-barrel."* 
People come and put a stop to this first essay at 
gallantry. She fires up, declares she will marry 
Tattle, or the butler, if she cannot get a better man. 
Her father says, " Hussy, you shall have a rod." She 
answers, " A fiddle of a rod ! I'll have a husband : and 
if you won't get me one, 1*11 get one for myself. I'll 
marry our Robin the butler."^ Here are pretty and 
prancing mares if you like; but decidedly, in these 

* Congreve's Love far Love^ ii. 11. 

* **Miss Prue, Well, and there's a handsome gentleman, and a fine 
gentleman, and a sweet gentleman, that was here, that loyes me, and 
I lore him ; and if he sees you speak to me any more, he'll thrash 
your jacket for you, he will ; you great sea-calf. 

Be^%. What ! do you mean that fair-weather spark that was here 
just now ? Will he thrash my jacket ? Let'n, let'n, let'n — but an he 
cornea near me, mayhap I may give him a salt-eel for's supper, for all 
that. What does father mean, to leave me alone, as soon as I come 
home, with such a dirty dowdy ? Sea-calf ! I an't calf em)ugh to lick 
your chalked face, you cheese-curd you. " — Ibid, iii. 7. 

' Ibid. V. 6. 


authors' hands, the natural man becomes nothing but a 
waif from the stable or the kenneL 

Will you be better pleased by the educated man ? 
The worldly life which they depict is a regular carni- 
val, and the heads of their heroines are full of wild 
imaginations and imchecked gossip. You may see in 
Congreve how they chatter, with what a flow of words 
and affectations, with what a shrill and modulated voice, 
with what gestures, what twisting of arms and neck, 
what looks raised to heaven, what genteel airs, what 
grimaces. Lady Wishfort speaks : 

'' But art thou sure Sir Rowland will not fail to come 9 or 
will he not fail when he does come 9 Will he be importunate, 
Foible, and push? For if he should not be importunate, I 
shall never break decorums : — I shaU die with confusion, if I 
am forced to advanca — Oh no, I can never advance ! — I shall 
swoon, if he should expect advances. No, I hope Sir Rowland 
is better bred than to put a lady to the necessity of breaking 
her forms. I won't be too coy neither — I won't give him 
despair — but a little disdain is not amiss; a little scorn is 

Foible, A little scorn becomes your ladyship. 

Lady Wishfort. Yes, but tenderness becomes me best — a sort 
of dyingness — ^you see that picture has a sort of a — ^ha, Foible I 
a swinuningness in the eye^ — ^yes, Fll look so — ^my niece affects 
it ; but she wants features. Is Sir Rowland handsome 1 Let 
my toilet be removed — Fll dress above. I'll receive Sir 
Rowland here. Is he handsome 9 Don't answer me. I won't 
know : 111 be surprised, I'll be taken by surprise.^ . . . And 
how do I look, Foible 1 

F. Most killing well madam. 

Lady W, Well, and how shall I receive him I in what 
figure shall I give his heart the first impression 1 . . . ShaU I 

1 Congreve, The Way of the World, ilL 6. 

424 THE CLASSIO AGK book m. 

sit ? — no, I won't sit — 1*11 walk — ay, I'll walk from the door 
upon his entrance ; and then turn full upon him — no, that will 
be too sudden. I'll lie — ay, 111 lie down — 111 receive him in 
my little dressing-room ; there's a couch — ^yes, yes, I'll give the 
first impression on a couch. I won't lie neither ; but loU and 
lean upon one elbow : with one foot a little dangling off, jog- 
ging in a thoughtful way — yes — and then as soon as he 
appears, start, ay, start, and be surprised, and rise to meet 
him in a pretty disorder." ^ 

Tliese hesitations of a finished coquette become still 
more vehement at the critical moment Lady Plyant 
thinks herself beloved by Mellefont, who does not love 
her at all, and tries in vain to undeceive her. 

** Mellefont. For heaven's sake, madam. 

Lady Plyant. 0, name it no more ! — Bless me, how can 
you talk of heaven ! and have so much wickedness in your 
heart? May be you don't think it a sin^ — They say some 
of you gentlemen don't think it a sin. — May be it is no sin to 
them that don't think it so ; indeed, if I did not think it a sin 
— but still my honour, if it were no sin. — But then, to marry 
my daughter, for the conveniency of frequf nt opportunities, I'll 
never consent to that ; as sure as can be I'll break the match. 

Mel. Death and amazement. — Madam, upon my knees. 

Lady P. Nay, nay, rise up ; come, you shall see my good 
nature. I know love is powerful, and nobody can help his 
passion : 'tis not your fault ; nor I swear it is not mine. How 
can I help it, if I have charms ? and how can you help it if 
you are made a captive) I swear it is pity it should be a 
fault. But my honour, — well, but your honour too — ^but the 
sin ! — well, but the necessity — Lord, here is somebody com- 
ing, I dare not stay. Well, you must consider of your crime ; 
and strive as much as can be against it, — strive, be sure — but 

J Congreve, Th^ Way of the World, iv. 


don't be melancholic, don't despair. — But never think that I'll 
grant you anything ; Lord, no. — But be sure you lay aside 
all thoughts of the marriage : for though I know you don't love 
Cynthia, only as a blind to your passion for me, yet it will 
make me jealous. — Lord, what did I say ? jealous ! no, no ; 
I can't be jealous, for I must not love you — therefore don't 
hope, — but don't despair neither. — 0, they're coming ! I must 
fly." 1 

She escapes and we will not follow her. 

This giddiness, this volubility, this pretty corruption, 
these reckless and affected airs, are collected in the 
most brilliant, the most worldly portrait of the stage we 
are discussing, that of Mrs. Millamant, " a fine lady," 
as the Dramatis Personae say.^ She enters, " with her 
fan spread and her streamers out," dragging a train of 
furbelows and ribbons, passing through a crowd of 
laced and bedizened fops, in splendid perukes, who 
flutter about her path, haughty and wanton, witty and 
scornful, toying with gallantries, petulant, with a horror 
of every grave word and all nobility of action, falling 
in only with change and pleasure. She laughs at the 
sermons of Mirabell, her suitor: "Sententious Mira- 
bell 1 — Prithee don't look with that violent and inflex- 
ible wise face, like Solomon at the dividing of the child 
in an old tapestry-hanging.^ . . . Ha ! ha ! ha ! — ^par- 
don me, deajr creature, though I grant you 'tis ct little 
barbarous, ha ! ha! ha!"* 

She breaks out into laughter, then gets into a rage, 
then banters, then sings, then makes faces, and 
changes at every motion while we look at her. It 
is a regular whirlpool ; all turns roimd in her brain as 

^ Congreve, The DoubU-decUer, ii 6. 
« Congreye, The Way of the JFarld. » Ihid. u. 6. * Ibid, iil 11. 

426 THE CLASSIC AGE. book m. 

in a clock when the mainspring is broken. Nothing 
can be prettier than her fashion of entering on matri- 
mony : 

<' Millamant. Ah ! Ill never marry unless I am first made sore 
of my will and pleasure ! . . . My dear hberty, shall I leave thee? 
my faithful solitude, my darling contemplation, must I bid you 
then adieu 9 Ay — h — adieu — my morning thoughts, agreeable 
wakings, indolent slumbers, all ye d(mceur8 ye sommeils du matin 
adieu? — I can't do it; 'tis more than impossible — ^positively, 
Mirabell, 111 lie a-bed in a morning as long as I please. 

Mirabdl Then TVL get up in a morning as early as I 

Mill Ah ! idle creature, get up when you will — ^and d'ye 
hear, I won't be called names after I'm married ; positively I 
won't be called names. 

Mir, Names 1 

Mill. Ay, as wife, spouse, my dear, joy, jewel, love, sweet 
heart, and the rest of that nauseous cant, in which men and 
their wives are so fiilsomely familiar — I shall never bear that — 
good Mirabell, don't let us be famihar or fond, nor kiss before 
folks, like my Lady Fadler, and Sir Francis. . . . Let us never 
visit together, nor go to a play together ; but let us be very 
strange and well-bred : let us be as strange as if we had been 
married a great while; and as well bred as if we were not 
married at all. . . . 

Mir, Shall I kiss your hand upon the contract ? ^ 

Mill, Fainall, what shall I do ? shall I have him ? I think 
I must have him. 

Fainall. Ay, ay, take him. What should you do ? 

Mill, Well then — I'll take my death I'm in a horrid fnght — 
Fainall, I shall never say it — well — I think — I'll endure you. 

Faiji, Fy! fy! have him, have him, and tell him so in 
plain terms : for I am sure you have a mind to him. 

^ CoDgreve, The Way of the Worlds iv. 5. 


Mill. Are youl I think I have — and the horrid man 
looks as if he thought so too — well, you ridiculous thing you, 
I'll have you — I won't be kissed, nor I won't be thanked — here 
kiss my hand though. — So, hold your tongue now, don't say a 
word," 1 

The agreement is complete. I should like to see one 
more article to it — a divorce "a mensd et thoro : " this 
would be the genuine marriage of the worldlings, that 
is a decent divorce. And I am sure that in two years 
MirabeU and Millamant will come to this. Hither 
tends the whole of this theatre ; for, with regard to the 
women, but particularly with regard to the married 
women, I have only presented their most amiable 
aspects. Deeper down it is all gloomy, bitter, above all, 
pernicious. It represents a household as a prison, 
marriage as a warfare, woman as a rebel, adultery as 
the result looked for, irregularity as a right, extravagance 
as pleasure.* A woman of fashion goes to bed in the 

* Congrcve, T?u Way of the World, iv. 6. 

' ** Amajida, How did you live together? Berinthia. Like 
man and wife, asunder. — He loved the country, I the town. He hawks 
and hounds, I coaches and equipage. He eating and drinking, I card- 
ing and playing. He the sound of a horn, I the squeak of a fiddle. 
We were dull company at table, worse a-bed. Whenever we met, we 
gave one another the spleen ; and never agreed but once, which was 
about lying alone." — Vanbrugh, Edapse, Act ii ad fin. 

Compare Vanbrugh, A Journey to London, Rarely has the repul- 
tiveness and corruption of the brutish or worldly nature been more 
vividly displayed. Little Betty and her brother, Squire Humphry, 
deserve hanging. 

Again. ** Afrs. Foresight. Do you think any woman honest! 
Scandal. Yes, several very honest ; they'll cheat a little at cards, 
sometimes ; but that's nothing. Mrs, F, Pshaw ! but virtuous, I 
mean. S. Yes, faith ; I believe some women are virtuous too ; but 
'tis as I believe some men are valiant, through fear. For why should 
a man court danger or a woman shun pleasure ?** — Congreve, Love for 
Love, iii. 14. 

428 THE CLASSIC AGK book m. 

morning, rises at mid- day, curses her husband, listens 
to obscenities, frequents balls, haimts the plays, ruins 
reputations, turns her home into a gambling-house, 
borrows money, allures men, associates her honour and 
fortune with debts and assignations. "We are as 
wicked (as men)," says Lady Brute, " but our vices lie 
another way. Men have more courage than we, so they 
commit more bold impudent sins. They quarrel, fight, 
swear, drink, blaspheme, and the like ; whereas we be- 
ing cowards, only backbite, tell lies, cheat at cards, and 
so forth." ^ An admirable resum^, in which the gentlemen 
are included and the ladies too I The world has done 
nothing but provide them with correct phrases and 
elegant dresses. In Congreve especially they talk in the 
best style; above all they know how to hand ladies 
about and entertain them with news ; they are expert 
in the fence of retorts and replies ; they are never out 
of countenance, find means to make the most ticklish 
notions understood ; they discuss very well, speak excel- 
lently, make their bow still better ; but to sum up, they 
are blackguards, systematical epicureans, professed sedu- 
cers. They set forth inonorality in maxims, and reason 
out their vice. " Give me," says one, " a man that keeps 
his five senses keen and bright as his sword, that has 
'em always drawn out in their just order and strength, 
with his reason, as commander at the head of 'em, that 
detaches 'em by turns upon whatever party of pleasure 
agreeably offers, and commands 'em to retreat upon the 
least appearance of disadvantage or danger. ... I love 
a fine house, but let another keep it; and just so I 

^ Vanbrugh, Provoked Wife, v. 2. Compare also in this piece the 
character of MademoiseUe, the French chambermaid. They represent 
French vice as even more shameless than English vice. 


love a fine woman." ^ One deliberately seduces his 
friend's wife ; another under a false name gets possession 
of his brother's intended. A third hires false witnesses 
to secure a dowry. I must ask the reader to consult 
for himself the fine stratagems of Worthy, Mirabell, and 
others. They are coldblooded rascals who forge, commit 
adultery, swindle, as if they had done nothing else aU 
their lives. They are represented here as men of 
fashion ; they are theatrical lovers, heroes, and as such 
they manage to get hold of an heiress. We must go to 
Mirabell for an example of this medley of corruption 
and elegance, Mrs. Fainall, his former mistress, married 
by him to a common friend, a miserable wretch, com- 
plains to him of this hateful marriage. He appeases 
her, gives her advice, shows her the precise mode, the 
true expedient for setting things on a comfortable 
footing. "You should have just so much disgust for 
your husband, as may be sufficient to make you relish 
your lover." She cries in despair, " Why did you make 
me marry this man?" He smiles calmly, "Why do 
we daily commit disagreeable and dangerous actions ? 
to save that idol, reputation." How tender is this 
argument ! How can a man better console a woman 
whom he has plunged into bitter imhappiness ! What 
a touching logic in the insinuation which follows : " If 
the familiarities of our loves had produced that conse- 
quence of which you were apprehensive, where could 
you have fixed a father^s name with credit, but on a 

^ Farquhar's The Beaux Stratagem, i 1 ; and in the same piece 
here is the catechism of love : * * What are the objects of that passion ? 
— youth, beauty, and clean linen." And from the Mock Astrologer of 
Bryden : "As I am a gentleman, a man about town, one that wears 
good cloths, eats, drinks, and wenches sufficiently." 

430 THE CLASSIC AGE. book m. 

husband ?" He continues his reasoning in an excellent 
style ; listen to the dilemma of a man of feeling : " A 
better man ought not to have been sacrificed to the 
occasion; a worse had not answered to the purpose. 
When you are weary of him, you know your remedy." * 
Thus are a woman's feelings to be considered, especially 
a woman whom we have loved. To cap all, this delicate 
conversation is meant to force the poor deserted Mrs. 
Fainall into a low intrigue which shall obtain for 
MirabeU a pretty wife and a good dowiy. Certainly 
this gentleman knows the world ; no one could better 
employ a former mistress. Such are the cultivated 
characters of this theatre, as dishonest as the unculti- 
vated ones : having transformed their evil instincts into 
systematic vices, lust into debauchery, brutality into 
cjmicism, perversity into depravity, deliberate egotists, 
calculating sensualists, with rules for their immorality, 
reducing feeling to self-interest, honour to decorum, 
happiness to pleasure. 

The English Eestoration altogether was one of those 
great crises which, while warping the development of a 
society and a literature, show the inward spirit which 
they modify, but which contradicts them. Society did 
not lack vigour, nor literature talent ; men of the world 
were polished, writers inventive. There was a court, 
drawing-rooms, conversation, worldly life, a taste for 
letters, the example of France, peace, leisure, the in- 
fluence of the sciences, of politics, of theology, — in 
short, all the happy circumstances which can elevate 
tlie mind and civilise manners. There was the vigorous 
satire of Wycherley, the sparkling dialogue and delicate 
raillery of Congreve, the frank nature and animation 

1 Congrere, The Wa^ofthe Wwrld, ii 4. 


of Vanbrugh, the manifold invention of Farquhar, in 
short, all the resources which might nourish the comic 
element, and offer a genuine theatre to the best construc- 
tions of human intelligence. Nothing came to a head ; 
all was abortive. Their age left nothing behind but the 
memory of corruption ; their comedy remains a repertory 
of viciousness; society had only a soiled elegance, 
literature a frigid wit Their manners are gross and 
trivial ; their ideas are futile or incomplete. Through 
disgust and reaction, a revolution was at hand in literary 
feeling and moral habits, as well as in general beliefs 
and political institutions. Man was to change alto- 
gether, and to turn completely round at once. The 
same repugnance and the same experience were to detach 
him from every aspect of his old condition. The 
Englishman discovered that he was not monarchical. 
Papistical, nor sceptical, but liberal, Protestant, and a 
believer. He came to understand that he was not a 
roisterer nor a worldling, but reflective and introspective. 
He possesses a current of animal life too violent to sufiTer 
him without danger to abandon himself to enjoyment ; 
he needs a barrier of moral reasoning to repress his out- 
breaks. There is in him a current of attention and will 
too strong to suffer himself to rest content with trifles ; 
he needs some weighty and serviceable labour on which 
to expend his power. He needs a barrier and an 
employment. He needs a constitution and a religion 
which shall restrain him by duties which must be per- 
formed, and which shall occupy him by rights which 
must be defended. He is content only in a serious and 
orderly life ; there he finds the natural groove and the 
necessary outlet for his faculties and his passions. 
From this time he enters upon it, and this theatre itself 

432 THE CLASSIC AGE. book m. 

exhibits the impress of it. It undoes and transfonns 
itself. Collier threw discredit upon it; Addison con- 
demned it National sentiment awoke on the stage; 
French manners are jeered at ; the prologues celebrate 
the defeats of Louis XIV. ; the license, elegance, religion 
of his court, are presented imder a ridiculous or odious 
light.^ Immorality gradually diminishes, marriage is 
more respected, the heroines go no further than to the 
verge of adultery ; ^ the roisterers are pulled up at the 
critical moment ; one of them suddenly declares himself 
purified, and speaks in verse, the better to msurk his 
enthusiasm ; another praises marriage ; ^ some aspire in 
the fifth act to an orderly life. We shall soon see 
Steele writing a moral treatise called The Christian Hero, 
Henceforth comedy declines and literary talent flows 
into another channel Essay, novel, pamphlet, disserta- 
tion, take the place of the drama; and the English 
classical spirit, abandoning the kinds of writing which 
are foreign to its nature, enters upon the great works 
wliich are destined to immortalise it and give it 


Nevertheless, in this continuous decline of dramatic 
invention, and in the great change of literary vitality, 
some shoots strike out at distant intervals towards 

^ The part of Chaplain Foigard in Forquhar's Beaux Siratagem ; of 
Mademoiselle, and generally of all the French people. 

* The part of Amanda in Vanbrugh's RelapM ; of Mrs. Sullen ; the 
conversion of two roisterers, in the Beaux Stratagem, 

* ** Though marriage be a lottery in which there are a wondrous 
many blanks, yet there is one inestimable lot, in which the only heaven 
upon earth is written. " 

'* To be capable of loving one, doubtless, is better than to possess a 
thousand." — Vanbruoh. 


comedy ; for mankind always seeks for entertainment^ 
and the theatre is always a place of entertainment 
The tree once planted grows, feebly no doubt, with 
long intervals of almost total dryness and almost constant 
barrenness, yet subject to imperfect renewals of life, to 
transitory partial blossomings, sometimes to an inferior 
fruitage bursting forth from the lowest branches. Even 
when the great subjects are worn out, there is still 
room here and there for a happy idea. Let a wit, 
clever and experienced, take it in hand, he wiU catch 
up a few oddities on his way, he will introduce on the 
scene some vice or fault of his time ; the public will 
come in crowds, and ask no better than to recognise 
itself and laugh- There was one of these successes 
when Gay, in the Beggars' Opera, brought out the 
rascaldom of the great world, and avenged the public 
on Walpole and the court ; another, when Goldsmith, 
inventing a series of mistakes, led his hero and his 
audience through five acts of blimders.^ After all, if 
true comedy can only exist in certain ages, ordinary 
comedy can exist in any age. It is too akin to 
the pamphlet, novels, satire, not to raise itself occa- 
sionally by its propinquity. If I have an enemy, 
instead of attacking him in a brochure, I can take my 
fling at him on the stage. If I am capable of painting 
a character in a story, I ani not far from having the 
talent to bring out the pith of this same character in a 
few turns of a dialogue. K I can quietly ridicule a 
vice in a copy of verses, I shall easily arrive at making 
this vice speak out from the mouth of an actor. At 
least I shall be tempted to try it ; I shall be seduced 
by the wonderful Mat which the footlights, declamation, 

* She Stoops to Conquer, 
VOL. n. 2 F 

434 THE CLASSIC AGK book ni. 

scenery give to an idea ; I shall try and bring my own 
into this strong light ; I shall go in for it even when 
it is necessary that my talent be a little or a good deal 
forced for the occasion. If need be, I shall delude 
myself, substitute expedients for artless originality and 
true comic genius. If on a few points I am inferior 
to the great masters, on some, it may be, I surpass 
them ; I can work up my style, refine upon it, discover 
happier words, more striking jokes, a brisker exchange 
of brilliant repartees, newer images, more picturesque 
comparisons; I can take from this one a character, 
from the other a situation, borrow of a neighbour- 
ing nation, out of old plays, good novels, biting 
pamphlets, polished satires, and petty newspapers ; I 
can accumulate effects, serve up to the public a 
stronger and more appetising stew; above all, I can 
perfect my machine, oil the wheels, plan the surprises, 
the stage effects, the see-saw of the plot, like a 
consummate playwright. The art of constructing 
plays is as capable of development as the art of clock- 
making. The farce-writer of to-day sees that the cata- 
strophe of half of Moli^re's plays is ridiculous ; nay, many 
of them can produce catastrophes better than Moli^re ; 
in the long run, they succeed in stripping the theatre 
of all awkwardness and circumlocution. A piquant 
style, and perfect machinery; pungency in all the 
words, and animation in all the scenes; a super- 
abundance of wit, and marvels of ingenuity ; over all 
this, a true physical activity, and the secret pleasure 
of depicting and justifying oneself, of public self- 
glorification : here is the foundation of the School for 
Scandul, here the source of the talent and the success 
of Sheridan. 


Richaxd Brinsley Sheridan was the contemporary 
of Beaumarchais, and resembled him in his talent and 
in his life. The two epochs, the two dramatic schools, 
the two characters, correspond. Like Beaumarchais, 
he was a lucky adventurer, clever, amiable, and 
generous, reaching success through scandfd, who flashed 
up in a moment, dazzled everybody, scaled with a rush 
the empyrean of politics and literature, settled himself, 
as it were, among the constellations, and, like a 
brilliant rocket, presently went out completely ex- 
hausted. . Nothing failed him; he attained all at the 
first attempt, without apparent effort, like a prince who 
need only show himself to win his place. He took as 
his birthright everything that was most surpassing in 
happiness, most brilliant in art, most exalted in worldly 
position. The poor imknown youth, the wretched 
translator of an unreadable Greek sophist, who at twenty 
walked about Bath in a red waistcoat and a cocked hat, 
destitute of hope, and ever conscious of the emptiness of 
his pockets, had gained the heart of the most admired 
beauty and musician of her time, had carried her off 
from ten rich, el^ant, titled adorers, had fought with 
the best-hoaxed of the ten, beaten him, had carried by 
storm the curiosity and attention of the public. Then, 
challenging glory and wealth, he placed successively on 
the stage the most diverse and the most applauded 
dramas, comedies, farce, opera, serious verse; he 
bought and worked a large theatre without a farthing, 
inaugurated a reign of successes and pecimiary advan- 
tages, and led a life of elegance amid the enjoyments 
of social and domestic joys, surroimded by universal 
admiration and wonder. Thence, aspiring yet higher, 
he conquered power, entered the House of Commons, 

436 THE CLASSIC AOE. book m. 

showed himself a match for the first orators, opposed 
Pitt, accused Warren Hastings, supported Fox, jeered at 
Burke ; sustained with brilliancy, disinterestedness, and 
constancy, a most difficult and liberal part ; became one 
of the three or four most noted men in England, an equal 
of the greatest lords, the friend of the Prince of Wales, 
in the end even Eeceiver-General of the Duchy of Corn- 
wall, treasurer to the fleet. In every career he took 
the lead. As Bjrron said of him : " Whatsoever 
Sheridan has done or chosen to do has been, par 
excellence, always the best of its kind. He has written 
the best comedy {The School for Scandal), the best drama 
(in my mind far before that St Giles lampoon The 
Beggar^a Opera), the best farce {The Critic — it is only 
too good for a farce), and the best Address {Monologue 
on Garrick), and, to crown all, delivered the very best 
oration (the famous Begum Speech) ever conceived or 
heard in this coimtiy."^ 

All ordinary rules were reversed in his favour. He 
was forty-four years old, debts began to accumulate ; 
he had supped and drunk to excess; his cheeks 
were purple, his nose red. In this state he met at 
the Duke of Devonshire's a charming yoimg lady 
with whom he fell in love. At the first sight she 
exclaimed, "What an ugly man, a regular monster!" 
He spoke to her ; she confessed that he was very ugly, 
but that he had a good deal of wit. He spoke again, 
and again, and she found him very amiable. He spoke 
yet again, and she loved him, and resolved at all hazard 
to marry him. The father, a prudent man, wishing to 
end the affair, gave out that his future son-in-law must 
provide a dowry of fifteen thousand pounds ; the fifteen 

* Ths Works of Lord Byron, 18 vols., ed. Moore, 1882, ii p. 803. 



thousand poimds were deposited as by magic in the hands 
of a banker ; the young couple set ofifinto the country ; 
and Sheridan, meeting his son, a find strapping fellow^ 
not very satisfied with the marriage, persuaded him that 
it was the most sensible thing a father could do, and 
the most fortunate event that a son could rejoice over. 
Whatever the business, whoever the man, he persuaded ; 
none withstood him, every one fell under his charm. 

What is more difficult than for an ugly man to make 
a young girl forget his ugliness ? There is one thing 
more difficult, and that is to make a creditor forget you 
owe him money. There is something more difficult 
still, and that is, to borrow money from a creditor who 
has come to dun you. One day one of his friends was 
arrested for debt ; Sheridan sends for Mr. Henderson, 
the crabbed tradesman, coaxes him, interests him, moves 
him to tears, works upon his feelings, hedges him in 
with general considerations and lofty eloquence, so that 
Mr. Henderson offers his purse, actually wants to lend 
two himdred pounds, insists, and finally, to his great joy, 
obtains permission to lend it. No one was ever more 
amiable, quicker to win confidence than Sheridan; 
rarely has the sympathetic, affectionate, and fascinating 
character been more fully displayed ; he was literally 
seductive. In the morning, creditors and visitors filled 
the rooms in which he lived ; he came in smiling with 
an easy manner, with so much loftiness and grace, that 
the people forgot their wants and their claims, and 
looked as if they had only come to see him. His 
animation was irresistible ; no one had a more dazzling 
wit; he had an inexhaustible fund of puns, contriv- 
ances, sallies, novel ideas. Lord Bjrron, who was a 
good judge, said that he had never heard nor conceived 

438 THE CLASSIC AGE. book in. 

of a more extraordinary power of conversation. Men 
spent nights in listening to him ; no one equalled him 
during a supper ; even when drunk he retained his wit. 
One morning he was picked up by the watch, and they 
asked him his name ; he gravely answered, " Wilberforce." 
With strangers and inferiors he had no arrogance or 
stiffness; he possessed in an eminent degree that 
unreserved character which always exhibits itself com- 
plete, which holds back ncMie of its light, which abandons 
and gives itself up ; he wept when he received a sincere 
eulogy from Lord Byron, or in recounting his miseries 
as a plebeian parvenu. Nothing is more charming than 
this opennesa of heart; it at once sets people on a 
footing of peace and amity ; men suddenly desert their 
defensive and cautious attitude; they perceive that a man 
is giving himself up to them, and they give themselves 
up to him; the outpouring of his innermost feelings 
invites the outpouring of theirs, A minute later, 
Sheridan's impetuous and sparkling individuality flashes 
out ; his wit explodes, rattles like a discharge of fire- 
arms ; he takes the conversation to himself, with a sus- 
tained brilliancy, a variety, an inexhaustible vigour, till 
five o'clock in the morning. Against such a necessity 
for launching out in unconsidered speech, of indulgence, 
of self-outpouring, a man had need be well on his guard ; 
life cannot be passed like a holiday ; it is a strife 
against others and against oneself; people must think 
of the future, mistrust themselves, make provision; 
there is no subsisting without the precaution of a 
shopkeeper, the calculation of a tradesman. K we sup 
too often, we will end by not having wherewithal to 
dine upon ; when our pockets have holes in them, the 
shillings will fall out ; nothing is more of a truism, but 


it is true. Sheridan's debts accumulated, his digestion 
failed. He lost his seat in Parliament, his theatre was 
burned ; sheriflTs officer succeeded sheriff's officer, and 
they had long been in possession of his house. At last, 
a bailiff arrested the dying man in his bed, and was 
for taking him off in his blankets ; nor would he let 
him go until threatened with a lawsuit, the doctor having 
declared that the sick man would die on the road. A 
certain newspaper (the Examiner) cried shame on the 
great lords who suffered such a man to end so miserably ; 
they hastened to leave their cards at his door. In the 
funeral procession two brothers of the king, dukes, earls, 
bishops, the first men in England, carried or followed 
the body. A singular contrast, picturing in abstract all 
his talent, and all his life ; lords at his funeral and 
bailiffs at his death-bed. 

His theatre was in accordance with his life ; all was 
brilliant, but the metal was not all his own, nor was it 
of the best quality. His comedies were comedies of 
society, the most amusing ever written, but merely come- 
dies of society. Imagine the exaggerated caricatures 
artists are wont to improvise, in the drawing-room of a 
house where they are intimate, about eleven o'clock in the 
evening. His first play. The Rivals, and afterwards his 
Duenna, and The Critic, are filled with these, and scarce 
anything else. There is Mrs. Malaprop, a silly preten- 
tious woman, who uses grand words higgledy-piggledy, 
delighted with herself, in "a nice derangement of 
epitaphs " before her nouns, and declaring that her niece 
is " as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the 
Nile." There is Bob Acres, who suddenly becomes a 
hero, gets engaged in a duel, and being led on the 
ground, calculates the effect of the balls^ thinks of his 

440 THE CLASSIC AGE. book hi. 

will, burial, embalmment, and wishes he were at homa 
There is another caricature in the person of a clumsy and 
cowardly ser\'ant, of an irascible and brawling father, of a 
sentimental and romantic young lady, of a touchy Irish 
duellist All this jogs and jostles on, without much 
order, amid die surprises of a twofold plot, by aid of 
appliances and rencontres, without the full and regular 
control of a dominating idea. But in vain vie per- 
ceive it is a patchwork; the high spirit carries off 
ever)'thing : we laugh heartily ; every single scene has 
its facetious and rapid movement ; we forget that the 
clumsy valet makes remarks as witty as Sheridan him- 
self/ and that the irascible gentleman speaks as well as 
the most elegant of \niters.^ The playwright is also a 
man of letters ; if, through mere animal and social spirit, 
ho wished to amuse others and to amuse himself, he 
di>es not forget the interests of his talent and tlie care 
for his reputation. He has taste, he appreciates the 
ivtinements of style, the worth of a new image, of a 
striking C(mtrast, of a witty and well-considered insinua- 
tion. He has, above all, wit, a wonderful conversational 
wit, the art of rousing and sustaining the attention, of 

* Acres, Odds blades I David, no gt-ntleman will ever risk the loss 
of hid honour I 

Ihtvid. I say, then, it would be but civil in honour never to risk the 
U>M of a geutlenian. — lA)ok ye, master, this honour seems to me to be 
« niarvellouft fjilse friend ; ay, truly, a very courtier-like servant — The 
ih\inuaic Works of Richard BrinsUy Hhcridan^ 1828 : The Ritals^ 
ir. 1. 

" Sir Anthony.— ^aj, but Jack, such eyes I so innocently wild ! so 
Imnh fully irri'sohite ! Not a glance but speaks and kindles some 
thought (»f love ! Tlicn, Jack, her cheeks I so deeply blushing at the 
iiminuationn of her tell-tale eyes ! Then, Jack, her lips ! Jack, Iij)9, 
Muiling at their own discretion ! and if not smiling, more sweetly 
|H>utiug, more lovely in sullenuess ! — The Jiivals, iii 1. 



being biting, varied, of taking his hearers unawares, of 
throwing in a repartee, of setting folly in relief, of 
accumulating one after another witticisms and happy 
phrases. He brought himself to perfection subsequently 
to his first play, having acquired theatrical experience, 
writing and erasing ; trying various scenes, recasting, 
arranging them; his desire was that nothing should 
arrest the interest, no improbability shock the spectator ; 
that his comedy might glide on with the precision, 
certainty, uniformity of a good machine. He invents 
jests, replaces them by better ones ; he whets his jokes, 
binds them up like a sheaf of arrows, and writes at the 
bottom of the last page, " Finished, thank God. — ^Amen." 
He is right, for the work costs him some pains ; he 
will not write a second. This kind of writing, artificial 
and condensed as the satires of La Bruyfere, is like a 
cut phial, into which the author has distilled all his re- 
flections, his reading, his wit, without keeping anything 
for himself. 

What is there in this celebrated School for Scandal ? 
And how is it that it has cast upon English comedy, 
which day by day was being more and more forgotten, 
the radiance of a last success? Sheridan took two 
characters from Fielding, Blifil, and Tom Jones ; two 
plays of Molifere, Ze Misanthrope and Tartuffe ; and from 
these puissant materials, condensed with admirable 
cleverness, he has constructed the most brilliant firework 
imaginable. Molifere has only one female slanderer, 
C^limfene ; the other characters serve only to give her 
a cue : there is quite enough of such a jeering woman ; 
she rails on within certain bounds, without hurry, like 
a true queen of the drawing-room, who has time to 
converse, who knows that she is listened to, who listens 
to herself: she is a woman of society, who preserves 

442 THE CLASSIC AGE. book m. 

the tone of refined conversation ; and in order to smooth 
down the harshness, her slanders are interrupted by the 
calm reason and sensible discourse of the amiable 
Eliante. Molifere represents the malice of the world 
without exaggeration ; but in Sheridan they are rather 
caricatured than depicted. " Ladies, your servant," says 
Sir Peter ; " mercy upon me ! the whole set — a character 
dead at every sentence." ^ In fact, they are ferocious : 
it is a regular quarry ; they even befoul one another, 
to deepen the outrage. Mrs. Candour remarks : " Yester- 
day Miss Prim assured me, that Mr. and Mrs. Honey- 
moon are now become mere man and wife, like the rest 
of their acquaintance. She likewise hinted, that a 
certain widow in the next street had got rid of her 
dropsy, and recovered her shape in a most surprising 
manner. ... I was informed, too, that Lord Flimsy 
caught his wife at a house of no extraordinary fame ; 
and that Tom Saunter and Sir Harry Idle were to 
measure swords on a similar occasion."^ Their ani- 
mosity is so bitter that they lower themselves to play 
the part of bufiToons. The most elegant person in the 
room. Lady Teazle, shows her teeth to ape a ridiculous 
lady, draws her mouth on one side, and makes faces. 
There is no pause, no softening ; sarcasms fly about like 
pistol-shots. The author had laid in a stock, he had to 
use them up. He himself is speaking through the 
mouth of each of his characters ; he gives them all the 
same wit, that is his own, his irony, his harshness, his 
picturesque vigour ; whatever they are, clowns, fops, old 
maids, no matter, the author's main business is to break 
out into twenty explosions in a minute : 

^ The School for ScancUU, ii 2. " Ihid, I 1. 



" Mrs, Candour, Well, I will never join in the ridicule of a 
friend ; so I tell my cousin Ogle, and ye all know what pre- 
tensions she has to beauty. 

Crab. She has the oddest countenance — a collection of 
features from all the comers of the globe. 

Sir Benjamin, She has, indeed, an Irish front 

Crab, Caledonian locks. 

Sir B, Dutch nose. 

Crab, Austrian lips. 

Sir B, The complexion of a Spaniard. 

Crab, And teeth d la Chinoise, 

Sir B. In short, her face resembles a table d!h6U at Spa, 
where no two guests are of a nation. 

Crab, Or a congress at the close of a general war, where 
every member seems to have a different interest, and the nose 
and chin are the only parties likely to join issue." ^ 

Or again : 

" Crab, Sad news upon his arrival, to hear how your brother 
has gone on ! 

Joseph Surface, I hope no busy people have already preju- 
diced his imcle against him — he may reform. 

Sir Benjamin, True, he may ; for my part, I never thought 
him BO utterly void of principle as people say, and though he 
has lost all his friends, I am told nobody is better spoken of 
amongst the Jews. 

Crab, Foregad, if the old Jewry was a ward, Charles would 
be an alderman, for he pays as many annuities as the Irish 
Tontine; and when he is sick, they have prayers for his re- 
covery in all the Synagogues. 

Sir B, Yet no man lives in greater splendor. — They tell me, 
when he entertains his friends, he can sit down to dinner with 
a dozen of his own securities, have a score of tradesmen waiting 
in the anti-chamber, and an officer behind every guest's chair." ^ 

1 The School far Scandal, ii 2. « Ibid, i, 1. 

444 THE CLASSIC AGE. book m. 

And again: 

" Sir B, Mr. Surface, I did not mean to hurt you, but depend 
on't, your brother is utterly undone. 

Crab, Oh ! undone as ever man was— can't raise a guinea. 

Sir B, Everything is sold, I am told, that was moveable. 

Crab, Not a moveable left, except some old bottles and some 
pictures, and they seem to be framed in the wainscot, egad. 

Sir B, I am sorry to hear also some bad stories of him. 

Crab. Oh ! he has done many mean things, that's certain. 

Sir B, But, however, he's your brother. 

Crab, Ay! as he is your brother — well tell you more 
another opportunity." ^ 

In this manner has he pointed, multiplied, driven in to 
the quick the measured epigrams of Moli^re. And yet 
is it possible to grow weary of such a well-sustained 
discharge of malice and witticisms ? 

Observe also the change which the hypocrite under- 
goes imder Sheridan's treatment. Doubtless all the 
grandeur disappears from the part. Joseph Surface does 
not uphold, like TartufiTe, the interest of the comedy ; 
he does not possess, like his ancestor, the nature of a 
cad, the boldness of a man of action, the manners 
of a beadle, the neck and shoulders of a monk. He is 
merely selfish and cautious; if he is engaged in an 
intrigue, it is rather against his will ; he is only half- 
hearted in the matter, like a correct young man, well 
dressed, with a fair income, timorous and fastidious 
by nature, discreet in manners, and without violent 
passions ; all about him is soft and polished, he takes 
his tone from the times, he makes no display of re- 

^ The School for Scandal^ i 1. 


ligion, though he does of moraKty; he is a man of 
measured speech, of lofty sentiments, a disciple of Dr. 
Johnson or of Rousseau, a dealer in set phrases. There 
is nothing on which to construct a drama in this com- 
monplace person ; and the fine situations which Sheri- 
dan takes from Molifere lose half their force through 
depending on such pitiful support But how this 
insufficiency is covered by the quickness, abundance, 
naturalness of the incidents ! how skill makes up for 
everything ! how it seems capable of supplying every- 
thing ! even genius ! how the spectator laughs to see 
Joseph caught in his sanctuary like a fox in his hole ; 
obliged to hide the wife, then to conceal the husband ; 
forced to run from the one to the other ; busy in hiding 
the one behind the screen, and the other in his closet ; 
reduced, in casting himself into his own snares, in 
justifying those whom he wished to ruin, the husband 
in the eyes of the wife, the nephew in the eyes of the 
uncle, to ruin the only man whom he wished to justify, 
namely, the precious and immaculate Joseph Surface ; 
to turn out in the end ridiculous, odious, baffled, con- 
founded, in spite of his adroitness, even by reason of 
his adroitness, step by step, without quarter or remedy ; 
to sneak off, poor fox, with his tail between his legs, his 
skin spoiled, amid hootings and laughter ! And how, at 
the same time, side by side with this, the naggings of 
Sir Peter and his wife, the suppers, songs, the picture 
sale at the spendthrift's house, weave a comedy in a 
comedy, and renew the interest by renewing the atten- 
tion! We cease to think of the meagreness of the 
characters, as we cease to think of the deviation from 
truth ; we are willingly carried away by the vivacity of 

446 THE CLASSIC AGE. book in. 

the action, dazzled by the brilliancy of the dialogue ; we 
are charmed, applaud ; admit that, after all, next to great 
inventive faculty, animation and wit are the most agree- 
able gifts in the world : we appreciate them in their 
season, and find that they also have their place in the 
literary banquet ; and that if they are not worth as much 
as the substantial joints, the natural and generous wines 
of the first course, at least they furnish the dessert 

The dessert over, we must leave the tabla After 
Sheridan, we leave it forthwith. Henceforth comedy 
languishes, fails ; there is nothing left but farce> such as 
Townley's High Life Below Stairs, the burlesques of 
George Colman, a tutor, an old maid, countrymen and 
their dialect; caricature succeeds painting; Punch raises 
a laugh when the days of Reynolds and Gainsborough are 
over. There is nowhere in Europe, at the present time, 
a more barren stage ; the higher classes abandon it to 
the people. This is because the form of society and of 
intellect which had called it into being, have disappeared* 
Vivacity, and the abimdance of original conceptions, had 
peopled the stage of the Eenaissance in England, — 
a surfeit which, unable to display itself in systematic 
argument, or to express itself in philosophical ideas, 
found its natural outlet only in mimic action and talk- 
ing characters. The wants of polished society had 
nourished the English comedy of the seventeenth 
century, — a society which, accustomed to the repre- 
sentations of the court and the displays of the world, 
sought on the stage a copy of its conversation and its 
drawing-rooms. With the decline of the court and the 
check of mimic invention, the genuine drama and the 
genuine comedy disappeared ; they passed from the stage 


into books. The reason of it is, that people no longer 
live in public, like the embroidered dukes of Louis XIV. 
and Charles II., but in their families, or at^the writing-, 
table ; the novel replaces the theatre at the same time 
that citizen life replaces the life of the court 


Prmitdby R. & R. Clark, Edinbutzh,